Elevation, canopy cover and grass cover structure patterns of seedling establishment in a subtropical post-fire restoration.

Published online
24 Nov 2023
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Ecological Solutions and Evidence

Warneke, C. & Brudvig, L. A. & Gregg, M. & McDaniel, S. & Yelenik, S.
Contact email(s)

Publication language
Hawaii & USA


Ecological restoration is beneficial to ecological communities in this era of large-scale landscape change and ecological disruption. However, restoration outcomes are notoriously variable, which makes fine-scale decision-making challenging. This is true for restoration efforts that follow large fires, which are increasingly common as the climate changes. Post-fire restoration efforts, like tree planting and seeding have shown mixed success, though the causes of the variation in restoration outcomes remain unclear. Abiotic factors such as elevation and fire severity, as well as biotic factors, such as residual canopy cover and abundance of competitive understorey grasses, can vary across a burned area and may all influence the success of restoration efforts to re-establish trees following forest fires. We examined the effect of these factors on the early seedling establishment of a tree species-māmane (Sophora chrysophylla)-in a subtropical montane woodland in Hawai'i. Following a human-caused wildfire, we sowed seeds of māmane as part of a restoration effort. We co-designed a project to examine māmane seedling establishment. We found that elevation was of overriding importance, structuring total levels of plant establishment, with fewer seedlings establishing at higher elevations. Residual canopy cover was positively correlated with seedling establishment, while cover by invasive, competitive understorey grasses very weakly positively correlated with increased seedling establishment. Our results point to specific factors structuring plant establishment following a large fire and suggest additional targeted restoration actions within this subtropical system. For example, if greater native woody recruitment is a management goal, then actions could include targeted seed placement at lower elevations where establishment is more likely, increased seeding densities at high elevation where recruitment rates are lower, and/or invasive grass removal prior to seeding. Such actions may result in faster native ecosystem recovery, which is a goal of local land managers.

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