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Summary - Mechanisms of community re-assembly

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Summary - Mechanisms of community re-assembly

Biscuit Fire Siskiyou Mountains

During the summer of 2002, Western North America experienced one of the largest fires in recorded history. Starting on 13 July 2002, the Biscuit Fire burned ~499,570 acres of mostly pristine habitat in southwestern Oregon and northern California. Although fires are common in the West, three aspects of the Biscuit Fire presented an unprecedented opportunity for study:

  1. This extensive fire resulted in a mosaic landscape containing a large number of replicate burned andunburned patches, essentially initiating a large-scale natural experiment.
  2. The Biscuit Fire burned across an area that includes one of North America's rarest vegetation types, Darlingtonia fens. These wetlands are dominated by the carnivorous California cobra lily, Darlingtonia californica, and they are rich in many other rare and endemic plant species. Importantly, Darlingtonia fens are discrete and isolated patches harboring a flora distinct from its surrounding matrix of upland habitat.
  3. We (myself and co-PI Nate Sanders) had extensive quantitative pre-burn data on both ant and plant community structure. These sites included three sites outside the fire, two sites that experienced high intensity burns, and one site that experienced a moderate intensity burn. The fortuitous collection of these pre-burn data provided an opportunity for rigorous analysis of fire effects that is impossible in studies that are only initiated after a major environmental perturbation.

Four co-PIs (Nick Gotelli, Erik Jules, Nate Sanders, and me) quickly exploited this unique opportunity to study the mechanisms controlling immediate community reassembly after a major disturbance. Specifically, we used both experimental manipulations and observations to examine the community assembly trajectories of two important and interacting taxa: ants and plants.