Question: What are the main forces driving natural regeneration in burned mature Mediterranean forests in the mediumlong term and what are the likely successional trajectories of unmanaged vegetation?
Location: Valencia Region, eastern Spain.
Methods: A wildfire burned 33 000 ha of Pinus halepensis and P. pinaster forest in 1979, and subsequent smaller wildfires took place between 1984 and 1996. The study was designed to sample the range of environmental and disturbance (fire recurrence and land use) conditions. The territory was classified into 17 different geomorphological and fire-recurrence units. Vegetation cover and floristic composition were measured on a total of 113 plots (1000 m2 each) randomly selected within these units.
Results: The results show that 23 years after the fire the regenerated vegetation consists of successional shrublands, and that forest ecosystem resilience can be very low. The vegetation presents a strong correlation with most of the environmental variables, but fire (one or two fires), soil type and land use (in that order) are the main drivers of vegetation composition. Quercus coccifera shrublands persist on limestone soils while diverse types of other shrublands (dominated by seeder species) are found on marl soils.
Conclusions: The results of this study indicate that disturbance factors strongly coupled to human activities, such as land use and fire, play a critical role in the current state of vegetation. Fire creates vegetation patches in different successional states while land use and soil type define the different types of shrubland in terms of their specific composition.