Fire legacies in eastern ponderosa pine forests

Caleb P. Roberts, Victoria M. Donovan, Carissa L. Wonkka, Larkin A. Powell, Craig R. Allen, David G. Angeler, David A. Wedin, Dirac Twidwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Disturbance legacies structure communities and ecological memory, but due to increasing changes in disturbance regimes, it is becoming more difficult to characterize disturbance legacies or determine how long they persist. We sought to quantify the characteristics and persistence of material legacies (e.g., biotic residuals of disturbance) that arise from variation in fire severity in an eastern ponderosa pine forest in North America. We compared forest stand structure and understory woody plant and bird community composition and species richness across unburned, low-, moderate-, and high-severity burn patches in a 27-year-old mixed-severity wildfire that had received minimal post-fire management. We identified distinct tree densities (high: 14.3 ± 7.4 trees per ha, moderate: 22.3 ± 12.6, low: 135.3 ± 57.1, unburned: 907.9 ± 246.2) and coarse woody debris cover (high: 8.5 ± 1.6% cover per 30 m transect, moderate: 4.3 ± 0.7, low: 2.3 ± 0.6, unburned: 1.0 ± 0.4) among burn severities. Understory woody plant communities differed between high-severity patches, moderate- and low-severity patches, and unburned patches (all p < 0.05). Bird communities differed between high- and moderate-severity patches, low-severity patches, and unburned patches (all p < 0.05). Bird species richness varied across burn severities: low-severity patches had the highest (5.29 ± 1.44) and high-severity patches had the lowest (2.87 ± 0.72). Understory woody plant richness was highest in unburned (5.93 ± 1.10) and high-severity (5.07 ± 1.17) patches, and it was lower in moderate- (3.43 ± 1.17) and low-severity (3.43 ± 1.06) patches. We show material fire legacies persisted decades after the mixed-severity wildfire in eastern ponderosa forest, fostering distinct structures, communities, and species in burned versus unburned patches and across fire severities. At a patch scale, eastern and western ponderosa system responses to mixed-severity fires were consistent.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1869-1879
Number of pages11
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 1 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • birds
  • burn severity
  • disturbance legacies
  • ecological memory
  • fire legacies
  • material legacies
  • ponderosa pine
  • stand structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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