Impacts of prescribed fire on Pinus rigida Mill. in upland forests of the Atlantic Coastal Plain

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Abstract

A comparative analysis of the impacts of prescribed fire on three upland forest stands in the Northeastern Atlantic Plain, NJ, USA, was conducted. Effects of prescribed fire on water use and gas exchange of overstory pines were estimated via sap-flux rates and photosynthetic measurements on Pinus rigida Mill. Each study site had two sap-flux plots, one experiencing prescribed fire and one control (unburned) plot for comparison before and after the fire. We found that photosynthetic capacity in terms of Rubisco-limited carboxylation rate and intrinsic water-use efficiency was unaffected, while light compensation point and dark respiration rate were significantly lower in the burned vs control plots post-fire. Furthermore, quantum yield in pines in the pine-dominated stands was less affected than pines in the mixed oak/pine stand, as there was an increase in quantum yield in the oak/pine stand post-fire compared with the control (unburned) plot. We attribute this to an effect of forest type but not fire per se. Average daily sap-flux rates of the pine trees increased compared with control (unburned) plots in pine-dominated stands and decreased in the oak/pine stand compared with control (unburned) plots, potentially due to differences in fuel consumption and pre-fire sap-flux rates. Finally, when reference canopy stomatal conductance was analyzed, pines in the pine-dominated stands were more sensitive to changes in vapor pressure deficit (VPD), while stomatal responses of pines in the oak/pine stand were less affected by VPD. Therefore, prescribed fire affects physiological functioning and water use of pines, but the effects may be modulated by forest stand type and fuel consumption pattern, which suggests that these factors may need to be taken into account for forest management in fire-dominated systems.

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