Effects of prescribed burning on ecophysiological, anatomical and stem hydraulic properties in Pinus pinea L.

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Abstract

Prescribed burning (PB) is a widespread management technique for wildfire hazard abatement. Understanding PB effects on tree ecophysiology is key to defining burn prescriptions aimed at reducing fire hazard in Mediterranean pine plantations, such as Pinus pinea L. stands. We assessed physiological responses of adult P. pinea trees to PB using a combination of dendroecological, anatomical, hydraulic and isotopic analyses. Tree-ring widths, xylem cell wall thickness, lumen area, hydraulic diameter and tree-ring δ13C and δ18O were measured in trees on burned and control sites. Vulnerability curves were elaborated to assess tree hydraulic efficiency or safety. Despite the relatively intense thermal treatment (the residence time of temperatures above 50 °C at the stem surface ranged between 242 and 2239 s), burned trees did not suffer mechanical damage to stems, nor significant reduction in radial growth. Moreover, the PB did not affect xylem structure and tree hydraulics. No variations in 13C-derived water use efficiency were recorded. This confirmed the high resistance of P. pinea to surface fire at the stem base. However, burned trees showed consistently lower δ18O values in the PB year, as a likely consequence of reduced competition for water and nutrients due to the understory burning, which increased both photosynthetic activity and stomatal conductance. Our multi-approach analysis offers new perspectives on post-fire survival strategies of P. pinea in an environment where fires are predicted to increase in frequency and severity during the 21st century.

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