Available at: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/theses/1688
Date of Award
MS in Forestry Sciences
Natural Resources Management
Disturbance is fundamental to forest ecosystem function and overall health, but climate change is likely to increase both disturbance frequency and intensity in the future. Forests subject to increasingly frequent and intense disturbances are more likely to experience compounding disturbance effects. Compounding disturbances may exert unpredicted, non-additive stresses on ecosystems, leading to novel conditions that may exceed the capacity for local species to survive and regenerate. I further hypothesize that compounding disturbances could create conditions misaligned with species’ adaptations by altering physical and chemical growing conditions in forest soils, affecting forest composition, structure, and, subsequently, function for many years following disturbance. A better understanding of these remnant effects will be essential to managing and conserving coast redwood forests, which are projected to see increased frequency of fire under future climate scenarios. My objectives in this study were to quantify the effects of time-since-fire and single vs. compounding disturbances on coast redwood forest structure, composition, and regeneration dynamics and to evaluate the effects of abiotic soil qualities on post-fire regeneration. I mapped and sampled coast redwood forests burned in 1985, both 1985 and 1999, 2008, and 2013; modeled regeneration as a function of burn history, understory light, and post-fire nutrient levels; and tested redwood seed regeneration in post-fire soils in a greenhouse experiment. Forest structure, composition, and regeneration following compounding disturbance were most similar to the homogenous, redwood-dominated forest of the recent 2013 burn. There were no unique effects of compounding disturbance on soil nutrient levels, although variations in nutrient levels generally followed patterns seen in previous studies. Soil nitrate was positively associated with coast redwood regeneration levels, showing that soil nutrients may be influential in regeneration processes following disturbance. Time since burn and single burn histories were negatively associated with regeneration levels in the field, and there were no differences in seed germination in the greenhouse between soils from different fire histories. Increases in coast redwood forest dominance accompanied declines in bay laurel and tanoak presence, indicating a shift in post-fire forest structure and composition resulting from compounding disturbance. These results illustrate a complex relationship between regeneration dynamics, post-fire soil quality, and disturbance histories. Forest homogenization from compounding disturbances may have negative implications for ecosystem services and overall function if compounding disturbances are more frequent as predicted under future climate conditions.