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Species at Risk Fire Ecology and Recovery

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Fire is a natural force in many ecosystems, often simultaneously destroying and restoring forest habitat. In the endangered limber pine forests of Alberta’s Rocky Mountains, managers were unsure of whether fire may have a restorative aspect, and thus have potential for use in recovery of the species. Research on a similar species, whitebark pine, and a limited handful of limber pine studies from other habitats seemed to suggest that using prescribed fire in areas adjacent to established limber pine stands would stimulate the establishment of new stands. However, no studies had explicitly looked at the regeneration of limber pine following fire in an Albertan context. Prescribed burning is an expensive, resource demanding tool; prior to using it for limber pine recovery, managers required better information about how limber pine recruitment was expected to respond to fire.

By examining natural regeneration in two burns near limber pine stands, M.Sc student Denyse Dawe (co-supervised by University of Alberta’s Mike Flannigan and King’s University’s Vern Peters) determined that limber pine recruitment was extremely limited in these burned areas. Contrary to expectation, her results suggest that limber pine’s seed disperser, a bird called the Clark’s nutcracker, may not be travelling into these burned habitats to cache limber pine seed, thereby limiting subsequent regeneration. Although more research on the relationships between limber pine, Clark’s nutcracker, and fire still need to be done to confirm this explanation, findings of low regeneration in these burned areas have important implications for fire management in Alberta’s limber pine forests. Prescribed fire, though still a potentially useful tool for creating new limber pine habitat and protecting stands from wildfire, may need to be supplemented by seedling plantings to achieve restoration goals for this endangered species.

Full thesis available here.

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