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Post-fire vegetation succession in the Siberian subarctic tundra over 45 years

Citation

Heim, Ramona Julia et al. (2020), Post-fire vegetation succession in the Siberian subarctic tundra over 45 years, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.sn02v6x2n

Abstract

Wildfires are relatively rare in subarctic tundra ecosystems, but they can strongly change ecosystem properties. Short-term fire effects on subarctic tundra vegetation are well documented, but long-term vegetation recovery has been studied less. The frequency of tundra fires will increase with climate warming. Understanding the long-term effects of fire is necessary to predict future ecosystem changes. We used a space-for-time approach to assess vegetation recovery after fire over more than four decades. We studied soil and vegetation patterns on three large fire scars (>44, 28 and 12 years old) in dry, lichen-dominated forest tundra in Western Siberia. On 60 plots, we determined soil temperature and permafrost thaw depth, sampled vegetation and measured plant functional traits. We assessed trends in NDVI to support the field-based results on vegetation recovery.Soil temperature, permafrost thaw depth and total vegetation cover had recovered to pre-fire levels after >44 years, as well as total vegetation cover. In contrast, after >44 years, functional groups had not recovered to the pre-fire state. Burnt areas had lower lichen and higher bryophyte and shrub cover. The dominating shrub species, Betula nana, exhibited a higher vitality (higher specific leaf area and plant height) on burnt compared with control plots, suggesting a fire legacy effect in shrub growth. Our results confirm patterns of shrub encroachment after fire that were detected before in other parts of the Arctic and Subarctic. In the so far poorly studied Western Siberian forest tundra we demonstrate for the first time, long-term fire-legacies on the functional composition of relatively dry shrub- and lichen-dominated vegetation.

Funding

Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst, Award: PROMOS

Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, Award: Promotionsstipendium