Complex early seral forest

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Complex early seral forest, also called snag forest, of burned trees and Aspen sprouts in the Mount Charleston Wilderness, Nevada
Complex early seral forest, or snag forest, in Yellowstone National Park

Complex early seral forests, or snag forests, are ecosystems that occupy potentially forested sites after a stand-replacement disturbance and before re-establishment of a closed forest canopy.[1] They are generated by natural disturbances such as wildfire or insect outbreaks that reset ecological succession processes and follow a pathway that is influenced by biological legacies (e.g., large live trees and snags, downed logs, seed banks, resprout tissue, fungi, and other live and dead biomass) that were not removed during the initial disturbance.[2][3] Complex early seral forests develop with rich biodiversity because the remaining biomass provides resources to many life forms and because of habitat heterogeneity provided by the disturbances that generated them.[4][5] In this and other ways, complex early seral forests differ from simplified early successional forests created by logging. Complex early seral forest habitat is threatened from fire suppression, thinning, and post-fire or post-insect outbreak logging.[6][7][8]

Complex early seral forest in boreal forest 1, 2, and 3 years post fire


Complex early seral forests are structurally more complex, contain more large trees and snags, and have more diverse understories, more functional ecosystem processes, and more diverse gene pools than areas of timber harvest.[5] These characteristics provide greater resilience in the face of climate change than that provided by the simplified early seral forests produced by logging. Complex early seral forest attributes promote a high level of species richness, particularly bird communities that utilize these forests extensively.[8][9]

The residual biomass of snags reduces disturbance stress and provides for the rapid proliferation of new life[10] For example, seed banks and live vegetation tissue gives rise to dense forb cover, abundant grasses, and shrubs – especially nitrogen fixers (e.g., Ceanothus spp.) and ectomycorrhizal associates (e.g., Manzanita spp.) that facilitate conifer growth.[5] Closed cone conifers like giant sequoia also do well in these forests. Other plants that can abundantly colonize burns, such as conifers and fireweed, arrive by wind or animal dispersed seed. Plant species richness of snag forests can be much higher than in unburned forests.[3]

Bird and small mammal communities that utilize complex early seral forests forage on the abundant insects and increased abundance of seeds in the post-fire flora.[9][11] These species, in turn, support an increase in raptors.[12] Bird species such as the Black-backed Woodpecker, Olive-sided Flycatcher (Contopus cooperi), Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides), Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina), and Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus) achieve highest abundances in complex early seral forests.[5] Bats (Myotis, Idionycteris, Lasionycteris, and Eptesicus) also use complex early seral forests because of greater insect prey as well as suitable roosts.[13] Stand-replacing fires stimulate an increased flow of aquatic prey to terrestrial habitats, driving increases in riparian consumers.[14] The trees killed by fire are beneficial to the ecological integrity of stream communities because they are a main source of large woody debris inputs.[15] There is also reproduction by some forest fungi species that are restricted to burns (e.g., morels, Morchella spp.) and the dead wood provides substrate for fungal growth that supports many arthropod species, including unique fire-following native beetles.[16][17] Beetles, in general, colonize fire-killed trees in complex early seral forests and their abundant larvae support species like Black-backed Woodpeckers[8] Forest and Spotted Owl management documents often state that severe wildfire is a cause of recent declines in populations of spotted owls poses a primary threat to Spotted Owl population viability, but a systematic review and meta-analysis found fires created more benefits than costs for spotted owls.[18]

Flowers blooming in complex early seral forest


  1. ^ Swanson, Mark E; Franklin, Jerry F; Beschta, Robert L; Crisafulli, Charles M; DellaSala, Dominick A; Hutto, Richard L; Lindenmayer, David B; Swanson, Frederick J (2011-03-01). "The forgotten stage of forest succession: early-successional ecosystems on forest sites". Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 9 (2): 117–125. Bibcode:2011FrEE....9..117S. doi:10.1890/090157. hdl:1885/60278. ISSN 1540-9309.
  2. ^ Franklin, Jerry F.; Lindenmayer, David; MacMahon, James A.; McKee, Arthur; Magnuson, John; Perry, David A.; Waide, Robert; Foster, David (2000-01-01). "Threads of Continuity". Conservation in Practice. 1 (1): 8–17. doi:10.1111/j.1526-4629.2000.tb00155.x. ISSN 1552-5228.
  3. ^ a b Donato, Daniel C.; Fontaine, Joseph B.; Robinson, W. Douglas; Kauffman, J. Boone; Law, Beverly E. (2009). "Vegetation response to a short interval between high-severity wildfires in a mixed-evergreen forest". Journal of Ecology. 97 (1): 142–154. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2745.2008.01456.x. ISSN 1365-2745.
  4. ^ Odion, Dennis C.; Sarr, Daniel A. (2007-07-16). "Managing disturbance regimes to maintain biological diversity in forested ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest". Forest Ecology and Management. Biodiversity Management in Pacific Northwest Forests: Strategies and Opportunities.Selected Papers from the conference on "Managing Biodiversity in Pacific Northwest Forests", Portland, Oregon, June 5–7, 2006. 246 (1): 57–65. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2007.03.050.
  5. ^ a b c d DellaSala, Dominick A.; Bond, Monica L.; Hanson, Chad T.; Hutto, Richard L.; Odion, Dennis C. (2014). "Complex Early Seral Forests of the Sierra Nevada: What are They and How Can They Be Managed for Ecological Integrity?". Natural Areas Journal. 34 (3): 310–324. doi:10.3375/043.034.0317. S2CID 84946817.
  6. ^ Hutto, Richard L.; Gallo, Susan M. (2006-11-01). "The effects of postfire salvage logging on cavity-nesting birds". The Condor. 108 (4): 817–831. doi:10.1650/0010-5422(2006)108[817:TEOPSL]2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0010-5422. S2CID 44060667.
  7. ^ Hanson, Chad T.; North, Malcolm P. (2008-11-01). "Postfire Woodpecker Foraging in Salvage-Logged and Unlogged Forests of the Sierra Nevada". The Condor. 110 (4): 777–782. doi:10.1525/cond.2008.8611. ISSN 0010-5422. S2CID 54067783.
  8. ^ a b c Hutto, Richard L. (2008). "The Ecological Importance of Severe Wildfires: Some Like It Hot". Ecological Applications. 18 (8): 1827–1834. Bibcode:2008EcoAp..18.1827H. doi:10.1890/08-0895.1. ISSN 1939-5582. PMID 19263880.
  9. ^ a b Fontaine, Joseph B.; Donato, Daniel C.; Robinson, W. Douglas; Law, Beverly E.; Kauffman, J. Boone (2009). "Bird communities following high-severity fire: Response to single and repeat fires in a mixed-evergreen forest, Oregon, USA". Forest Ecology and Management. 257 (6): 1496–1504. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2008.12.030.
  10. ^ Odion, Dennis C.; Sarr, Daniel A. (2007). "Managing disturbance regimes to maintain biological diversity in forested ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest". Forest Ecology and Management. Biodiversity Management in Pacific Northwest Forests: Strategies and Opportunities.Selected Papers from the conference on "Managing Biodiversity in Pacific Northwest Forests", Portland, Oregon, June 5–7, 2006. 246 (1): 57–65. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2007.03.050.
  11. ^ Zwolak, Rafał (2009-08-20). "A meta-analysis of the effects of wildfire, clearcutting, and partial harvest on the abundance of North American small mammals". Forest Ecology and Management. 258 (5): 539–545. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2009.05.033.
  12. ^ Lawrence, George E. (1966-03-01). "Ecology of Vertebrate Animals in Relation to Chaparral Fire in the Sierra Nevada Foothills". Ecology. 47 (2): 278–291. Bibcode:1966Ecol...47..278L. doi:10.2307/1933775. ISSN 1939-9170. JSTOR 1933775.
  13. ^ Buchalski, Michael R.; Fontaine, Joseph B.; Iii, Paul A. Heady; Hayes, John P.; Frick, Winifred F. (2013-03-06). "Bat Response to Differing Fire Severity in Mixed-Conifer Forest California, USA". PLOS ONE. 8 (3): e57884. Bibcode:2013PLoSO...857884B. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0057884. ISSN 1932-6203. PMC 3590284. PMID 23483936.
  14. ^ Malison, Rachel L.; Baxter, Colden V. (2010-02-25). "The fire pulse: wildfire stimulates flux of aquatic prey to terrestrial habitats driving increases in riparian consumers". Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 67 (3): 570–579. doi:10.1139/F10-006. ISSN 0706-652X.
  15. ^ Minshall, G Wayne; Robinson, Christopher T; Lawrence, Deron E (1997). "Postfire responses of lotic ecosystems in Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A". Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. 54 (11): 2509–2525. CiteSeerX doi:10.1139/f97-160.
  16. ^ Linsley, Gorton E. (1943-04-01). "Attraction of Melanophila Beetles by Fire and Smoke". Journal of Economic Entomology. 36 (2): 341–342. doi:10.1093/jee/36.2.341. ISSN 0022-0493.
  17. ^ Bradley, Tim; Tueller, Paul (2001-03-01). "Effects of fire on bark beetle presence on Jeffrey pine in the Lake Tahoe Basin". Forest Ecology and Management. 142 (1–3): 205–214. doi:10.1016/S0378-1127(00)00351-0.
  18. ^ Lee, Derek E. (July 2018). "Spotted Owls and forest fire: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence". Ecosphere. 9 (7): e02354. Bibcode:2018Ecosp...9E2354L. doi:10.1002/ecs2.2354. ISSN 2150-8925.

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