Short-term effects of spring prescribed burning on the understory vegetation of a Pinus halepensis forest in Northeastern Spain

Fuentes, L., et al., 2018. Science of the Total Environment

Original research (primary data)
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Since the 1970s, fire regimes have been modified in the Northern Mediterranean region due to profound landscape changes mostly driven by socioeconomic factors, such as rural abandonment and large-scale plantations. Both fuel accumulation and the increasing vegetation spatial continuity, combined with the expansion of the wildland-urban interface, have enhanced fire risk and the occurrence of large wildfires. This situation will likely worsen under the projected aridity increase resulting from climate change. Higher fire recurrences, in particular, are expected to cause changes in vegetation composition or structure and affect ecosystems’ resilience to fire, which may lead to further land degradation. Prescribed burning is a common fuel reduction technique used for fire prevention, but for conservation and restoration purposes as well. It is still poorly accepted in the Mediterranean region since constrained by critical knowledge gaps about, in particular, its effects on the ecosystems (soil, vegetation). We studied the short-term (10 months) effects on the understory vegetation of a spring prescribed burning conducted in a Pinus halepensis forest in Mediterranean climate (Northeastern Spain). Our results show that the understory plant community recovered after the burning without short term significant changes in either species richness, diversity, or floristic composition. Most vegetation structural characteristics were modified though. The burning strongly reduced shrub height, shrub and herbaceous percentage covers, and aerial shrub phytomass; especially its living fine fraction, thus resulting in a less flammable community. The treatment proved to be particularly effective for the short term control of Ulex parviflorus, a highly flammable seeder species. Moreover, the strong reduction of seeder shrubs frequency in relation to resprouters’ likely promoted the resilience to fire of this plant community. From a fuel-oriented perspective, the burning caused a strong reduction of spatial continuity and surface fuel loads, leading to a less fire-prone fuel complex.

Case studies

Basic information

  • Case ID: INT-103-1
  • Intervention type: Management
  • Intervention description:

    spring understory prescribed burning

  • Landscape/sea scape ecosystem management: No
  • Climate change impacts Effect of Nbs on CCI Effect measures
    Wildfire  Positive vegetation structural characteristics as indicators of flammability and fire risk including: shrub height and volume, shrub and herbaceous percentage covers, and aerial shrub phytomass (live and dead)
  • Approach implemented in the field: Yes
  • Specific location:

    the Colladetes area (UTM Zone 31N: 304762, 4530927), which is located in the municipal- ity of El PerelloĢ (Southern Catalonia, Northeastern Spain)

  • Country: Spain
  • Habitat/Biome type: Mediterranean shrubs and Forests |
  • Issue specific term: Not applicable


  • Notes on intervention effectivness: effectiveness evaluated by comparing measures before and after the intervention
  • Is the assessment original?: Yes
  • Broadtype of intervention considered: Not applicable
  • Compare effectivness?: No
  • Compared to the non-NBS approach: Not applicable
  • Report greenhouse gas mitigation?: No
  • Impacts on GHG: Not applicable
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on natural ecosystems: Yes
  • Impacts for the ecosystem: No-effect
  • Ecosystem measures: variables of Species richness, diversity and floristic composition
  • Assess outcomes of the intervention on people: No
  • Impacts for people: Not reported
  • People measures:
  • Considers economic costs: No
  • Economic appraisal conducted: No
  • Economic appraisal described:
  • Economic costs of alternative considered: No
  • Compared to an alternative: Not reported

Evaluation methodology

  • Type of data: Quantitative
  • Is it experimental: No
  • Experimental evalution done: Not applicable
  • Non-experimental evalution done: Empirical case study
  • Study is systematic: