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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Pine species that support crown fire regimes have lower leaf-level terpene contents than those native to surface fire regimes

  • Author(s): Dewhirst, RA;
  • Smirnoff, N;
  • Belcher, CM
  • et al.

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Fire is increasingly being recognised as an important evolutionary driver in fire-prone environments. Biochemical traits such as terpene (volatile isoprenoid) concentration are assumed to influence plant flammability but have often been overlooked as fire adaptations. We have measured the leaf-level flammability and terpene content of a selection of Pinus species native to environments with differing fire regimes (crown fire, surface fire and no fire). We demonstrate that this biochemical trait is associated with leaf-level flammability which likely links to fire-proneness and we suggest that this contributes to post-fire seedling survival. We find that surface-fire species have the highest terpene abundance and are intrinsically the most flammable, compared to crown-fire species. We suggest that the biochemical traits of surface fire species may have been under selective pressure to modify the fire environment at the leaf and litter scale to moderate fire spread and intensity. We indicate that litter flammability is driven not only by packing ratios and bulk density, but also by terpene content.

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