Fire history of Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) forests of the Cordillera Pelada, Chile

Authors: Jason Sibold*, Geography, Colorado State University, Mauro Gonzalez, Universidad Austral de Chile, Antonio Lara, Universidad Austral de Chile
Topics: Biogeography, Mountain Environments, Climatology and Meteorology
Keywords: wildfire
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 9
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Alerce-dominated forests of the Cordillera Pelada of south-central Chile have clear evidence of landscape-wide wildfire, however, the natural role of fire in this system is not clear. Much of the higher elevation portions of the landscape (700-1000m) consist of extensive stands of dead-standing Alerce that were killed by wildfire. The combination of the extremely wet environment, rarity of lighting, and extensive use of fire by EuroChilean settlers to clear the landscape for timber extraction, suggest that fire is primarily an anthropogenic process. The general lack of post-fire Alerce regeneration in many burned stands reinforces the notion that fire is not a natural process in this system. In contrast, several factors including a pronounced dry summer season, occasional lightning storms, and the ability of Alerce to resprout following some fires, imply that fire is a natural part of the system. The occurrence of pre-settlement fire is also supported by a small fire history dataset. In this view, the lack of post-fire regeneration following more recent fires is likely a consequence of the compounding influences of repeated fires in short succession or of fire with other disturbances. To identify the role of fire in the pre-settlement era landscape, and potential changes in fire associated with settlement-era land use practices, we reconstructed fire history for the last ca. 1,500 years in Alerce-dominated stands of the Cordillera Pelada.

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