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Fire Ecology, 2012
Volume 8, Issue 1

Age and Structure of Mature Knobcone Pine Forests in the Northern California Coast Range, USA
Authors: Danny L. Fry, James Dawson, and Scott L. Stephens
Pages: 49-62
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0801049

An understanding of current structural conditions and disturbance history is a requisite for optimal management of forest ecosystems, especially for serotinous species such as knobcone pine (Pinus attenuata Lemmon).  Knobcone pine is widely distributed in California, yet little is known regarding age and forest structure patterns.  In this study, we quantify forest conditions of 21 mature knobcone pine stands in the northern Mayacmas Mountains, north Coast Range, California, USA.  Characterized by complex terrain, knobcone pine forests occur in small patches interspersed with chaparral and mixed evergreen forests.  Stands displayed unimodal, bimodal, and diffuse age distributions with predominant stand ages ranging from 42 yr to 70 yr, although trees ranged from 17 yr to 98 yr old.  Knobcone pine stands appear to have been maintained by stand replacing fires.  However, stands with uneven-aged structures were produced through the persistence of residual trees and low intensity fires that created secondary cohorts.  Stands varied in density, ranging from 503 stems ha-1 to 2986 stems ha-1, with snags comprising 12 % to 40 % of total density.  Wildfires that occurred from the 1930s to the 1960s, in addition to a large wildfire in 1981, created a heterogeneous landscape of knobcone pine forests.  Older stands have lower canopy cover, high snag densities, and many trees with evidence of western gall rust (Peridermium harknessii) infections—signs that they are approaching their expected life spans.  Risks and constraints associated with using stand replacing prescribed fire pose a challenge for managers of knobcone pine forests, and research may be needed to explore feasible treatment alternatives.

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