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J Environ Manage. 2008 Aug;88(3):539-46. Epub 2007 Apr 27.

Invasion of Pinus halepensis Mill. following a wildfire in an Argentine grassland nature reserve.

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GEKKO, Grupo de Estudios en Conservación y Manejo, Departamento de Biología, Bioquímica y Farmacia, Universidad Nacional del Sur (UNS), San Juan 670 (8 000), Bahía Blanca, Argentina.


The Ernesto Tornquist nature reserve is a relict of native Pampas vegetation in Argentina. Alien trees were introduced to the reserve in the 1950s, mainly to "improve" the natural landscape, resulting in the arrival of a totally new life form. In 1987, a fire affected an area planted with Pinus halepensis resulting in its massive expansion. In 1999, we removed trees from 17 circular plots of 10 m diameter placed systematically within the area that was colonized after the fire. Trunks were cut 20 cm from the ground and growth rings were counted. We studied the age structure of the population in order to reconstruct the colonizing events after the fire. We found that recruitment occurred throughout this period, except in the three years after the disturbance. We suggest that this delay in recruitment might be caused by low seedling survival under water stress conditions due to low rainfall, combined with scarce vegetation cover after fire. This could have been associated with an initial reduction in propagule pressure due to the scarcity of surviving trees in the vicinity and with the fact that fire occurred after the peak of seed release, during an extremely dry summer, probably killing a great number of seeds that were already in the soil. In the following years, recruitment was probably aided by pioneer trees and later by seeds shed from established pines. Alien trees had been allowed to reach maturity due to wildfire prevention and control in the years preceding the fire and the accumulated dry matter resulted in increased fire intensity that reduced the ability of grasses to re-sprout. As a consequence, the invasion window that allowed the expansion of pines remained open for at least 12 years.

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