Thinning and prescribed burning are two common operations for reducing fuel accumulation and decreasing the intensity and severity of wildfires. However, the resprouting response of understory species may reduce the effectiveness of fuel load treatments and thus negatively affect the cost-benefit ratio of these treatments. This study focuses on Buxus sempervirens, a slow-growing, multi-stemmed tree species, frequently dominant in the understory of temperate European forests, which resprouts strongly after clearing or burning. The aim was to assess how light availability and burning influence resprouting ability (resprouting or not) and vigor (i.e. the growth of resprouts) after clearing B. sempervirens in thinned stands without slash removal (unburned) or with burning of slash residues (burned), two years after the treatments. All individuals studied resprouted shortly after clearing in unburned stands, whereas almost ca. 40% never resprouted in the burned stands. Fire intensity, measured at the base of 49 individuals, contributed to explaining the likelihood of mortality. The number of resprouts was directly influenced by the pre-treatment size of individuals, but this relationship was lower in burned stands. Fire intensity, recorded in 29 resprouted individuals, also influenced the number of resprouts. Post-treatment light availability, in addition to pre-treatment size, contributed to explaining the volume of the ten largest resprouts and the length of the largest resprout. No tradeoffs between the resprout number and the volume of the ten largest resprouts or the maximum resprout length were found. Our study suggests that burning after clearing reduces the resprouting ability of B. sempervirens. Moreover, avoiding affecting the canopy cover reduces its resprouting vigor and, consequently, increases the effectiveness of understory fuel load treatments.
Keywords: Canopy openness; Fire intensity; Fire temperature-time integral; Prescribed fire; Resprout number and volume; Resprouting probability.
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