Human activities and rapid global climate change are altering fire regimes with potential threat to the stability of aspen ecosystems in North America. Aspen is an early successional species that plays an important role in post-fire forest reestablishment, but chronic browsing on juvenile aspen by large ungulate herbivores after fire can be detrimental and lead to regeneration failure. Although larger and more severe fires are expected to become more prominent, whether and how this may influence aspen and ungulate communities remains unclear. The objective of this research was to examine how the relationship between aspen and ungulate communities might be influenced by variation in fire severity and size. In 2012, we examined browse patterns, growth responses and defense chemistry (phenolic glycoside and condensed tannins) concentrations of regenerating aspen that experienced variable burn severity in the 2010 Twitchell Canyon Fire, Utah, USA. We found that greater light availability in higher severity burn environments enhanced aspen tolerance and resistance against herbivory by increasing growth potential and defense chemistry concentrations of aspen. These results suggest that burn severity influences plant-herbivore interactions through bottom-up and top-down forces, and that higher fire severity increases post-disturbance vegetation recruitment potential by increasing resilience to herbivory. In 2013, we characterized aspen and ungulate patterns of 25 fires that spread across five National Forests (Uinta-Wasatch-Cache NF, Ashley NF, Fishlake NF, Dixie NF, and Manti-La Sal NF) in the state of Utah. We identified interaction effects between fire size and severity that strongly influenced aspen and ungulate densities. Fire size and severity are important ecological filters that can interact to affect forest reestablishment and community response. This information is useful in developing decision-making tools for wildfire and ungulate management that can more effectively increase the long-term resilience of forests systems.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



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aspen, browsing, defense chemistry, disturbance, fire, herbivory, ungulates, severity, size