Positive fire-grass feedback in Mediterranean Basin woodlands

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Fires can mediate switches between alternative vegetation types which may be more flammable and thus reinforce fire spread. We tested if there is a positive feedback between the expansion of the tussock grass Ampelodesmos mauritanica (hereafter Ampelodesmos) and fire hazard in Mediterranean Basin communities and its relation to tree cover decline. The effect of fire on Ampelodesmos population structure was analysed by surveying stands burned at different fire frequencies. The effect of vegetation dominated by Ampelodesmos on fire behaviour compared to other species coexisting in the community was predicted by the Rothermel fire propagation model BEHAVE. There was a negative correlation between pine cover and percentage of Ampelodesmos plants. Ampelodesmos mortality after fire is very low. Recently burned stands had a higher proportion of reproductive plants and higher seedling density than unburned stands. The high temperatures reached during fire may kill seeds, the higher seedling recruitment results from fast resprouting and higher seed production of burned plants compared to unburned plants 1 year after fire. Simulations with the BEHAVE fire model predict that Ampelodesmos increases fire intensity and spread because of its high accumulation of fuel load and standing dead material. The results suggest that there is a positive relationship between Ampelodesmos abundance and fire regime which increases the invasive potential of this grass and the fire risk of the community where it dominates. © 2001 Elsevier Science B.V.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-14
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2001


  • Ampelodesmos mauritanica
  • Ecological feedback
  • Fire regime
  • Grass expansion
  • Post-fire regeneration
  • Rothermel model


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