Valuing acorn dispersal and resprouting capacity ecological functions to ensure Mediterranean forest resilience after fire
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Ecological processes within forests provide vital ecosystem services to society, most of which depend on the persistence of tree cover that can be altered after the impact of a disturbance. The aim of the present study was to examine the role of seed dispersal and resprouting that mediate resilience to large fires and evaluate the economic costs that these ecological functions provide. We used field data from 412 plots of the Spanish National Forest Inventory providing information on pre- and post-fire conditions of Mediterranean Pinus spp. and Quercus spp.-dominated forests. Then, we determined the need for restoration (N Rest) and estimated the minimum pre-fire densities needed to ensure adequate post-fire cover. Economic valuations were assessed through three different scenarios (Sc) of possible human-management actions aimed at ensuring proper post-fire tree cover: Sc. 1) a pre-fire management scenario evaluating the costs of planting Quercus spp. seedlings in the understory, mimicking the whole dispersal function; Sc. 2) a pre-fire scenario in which enrichment plantations increased the densities of natural oaks; and Sc. 3) a post-fire scenario where the restoration is done through planting pines within the burned area. Approximately 90% of the burned area (371 out of 412 plots) was able to recover after fire supporting the view that Mediterranean forests are resilient to fire. This resilience was primarily mediated by biotic seed dispersal and posterior resprouting of tree species. These ecological functions saved between 626 and 1,326 €/ha compared to the human-management actions. Ensuring key ecological processes within forests increases forest resilience and recovery after fire leading to a generally significant saving of economic resources. In a perspective of increased future impact of disturbances and decrease availability of economic resources for forest management, the implications of the present study can be far reaching and extended to other forest planning exercises.