Disturbance interval modulates the starting point for vegetation succession
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John Wiley & Sons
ClearcuttingDisturbance interactionDisturbance modificationEcological legacyFireLightPlantsSuccessionTraitsVegetation
Gustafsson, L... [et al.] 2021. Disturbance interval modulates the starting point for vegetation succession. Ecology 102( 9):e03439. [10.1002/ecy.3439]
Increased frequency and new types of disturbances caused by global change calls for deepened insights into possible alterations of successional pathways. Despite current interest in disturbance interactions there is a striking lack of studies focusing on the implication of decreasing times between disturbances. We surveyed forest-floor vegetation (vascular plants and bryophytes) in a Pinus sylvestris–dominated, even-aged production forest landscape, unique because of the presence of stands under a precisely dated disturbance interval gradient, ranging from 0 to 123 yr between clearcutting and a subsequent megafire. Despite a dominance of early-successional species in all burned stands 5 yr after fire, progression of succession was linked to time since the preceding clearcutting disturbance. This was most clearly seen in increased frequency with time since clearcutting of the dominant, late-successional dwarf shrub Vaccinium myrtillus, with surviving rhizomes as an important mechanism for postfire recovery. Our results demonstrate the role of legacy species as significant drivers of succession. We conclude that the starting point for succession is modulated by disturbance interval, so that shortened intervals risk reducing development towards late-successional stages. We suggest that a decrease in long successional sequences caused by more frequent disturbances may represent a general pattern, relevant also for other forest types and ecosystems.