Prescribed burning is used to reduce fuel hazard but underburning can damage standing trees. The effect of burning on needle terpene storage, a proxy for secondary metabolism, in fire-damaged pines is poorly understood despite the protection terpenes confer against biotic and abiotic stressors. We investigated variation in needle terpene storage after burning in three Mediterranean pine species featuring different adaptations to fire regimes. In two pure-stands of Pinus halepensis Mill. and two mixed-stands of Pinus sylvestris L. and Pinus nigra ssp. salzmanni (Dunal) Franco, we compared 24 h and 1 year post-burning concentrations with pre-burning concentrations in 20 trees per species, and evaluated the relative contribution of tree fire severity and physiological condition (δ13C and N concentration) on temporal terpene dynamics (for mono- sesqui- and diterpenes). Twenty-four hours post-burning, monoterpene concentrations were slightly higher in P. halepensis than at pre-burning, while values were similar in P. sylvestris. Differently, in the more fire-resistant P. nigra monoterpene concentrations were lower at 24 h, compared with pre-burning. One year post-burning, concentrations were always lower compared with pre- or 24 h post-burning, regardless of the terpene group. Mono- and sesquiterpene variations were negatively related to pre-burning δ13C, while diterpene variations were associated with fire-induced changes in needle δ13C and N concentration. At both post-burning times, mono- and diterpene concentrations increased significantly with crown scorch volume in all species. Differences in post-burning terpene contents as a function of the pine species' sensitivity to fire suggest that terpenic metabolites could have adaptive importance in fire-prone ecosystems in terms of flammability or defence against biotic agents post-burning. One year post-burning, our results suggest that in a context of fire-induced resource availability, pines likely prioritize primary rather than secondary metabolism. Overall, this study contributes to the assessment of the direct and indirect effects of fire on pine terpene storage, providing valuable information about their vulnerability to biotic and abiotic stressors throughout time.
Keywords: Pinus halepensis; Pinus nigra; Pinus sylvestris; conifers; fire ecology; plant volatiles; prescribed fire; secondary metabolism.
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