Project info Using the forest fires of the China Muerta National Reserve (CMNR) as a natural laboratory for assessing their ecological impacts. FONDECYT Initiation into Research N°11150487. Investigator: Dr. Andres Fuentes Ramirez. Period: 2015-2018
Background In summer 2015 a wildfire outbreak took place in southern Chile, which burned large portions of natural forests within protected areas. One of the most affected areas in La Araucania Region (38° S) was the China Muerta National Reserve (CMNR). Within the area, fire was active for 22 days, and burned ca. 3,000 hectares of natural forests. This situation was devastating for wildlife, native flora, and the entire ecosystem. Nevertheless, it constitutes a unique opportunity for setting a natural laboratory experiment, because the species from these forests are less adapted to withstand intense fires. Therefore, fire can negatively affect the entire plant community, promoting the establishment of exotic invasive species and altering the soil nutrient balance. These changes could potentially alter the ecosystem functioning in a permanent way. Thus, the main goal of this research is to evaluate the impact of fire on the plant community (both native and exotic species) and on the soil nutrients within burned areas of the CMNR.
Initial Progress (Fall 2016) In the first stage of our research we will set permanent plots in three burning conditions: high severity (HS), medium severity (MS), and low severity (LS). In each plot we will measure regeneration, growth, abundance and richness of plants, as well as the spatial distrbution of all individuals. Regarding the soil, our aim for the first stage is to collect samples for performing nutrient and microbial analyses within the three burning conditions.
Current Progress (Fall 2017) During the second year we finished sampling vegetation within areas that were not affected by fire (serving as control). We also started to re-sample vegetation and soil within HS and MS conditions in order to assess plant recovery over time across the fire gradient. Other key progress at this stage was the installation of exclusion plots within burned areas with aim of accounting the impact of cattle grazing on plant recovery. This work was done on close collaboration with the team of park rangers from the China Muerta National Reserve.
Research team Marcia Barrientos Nayadeth Muñoz Andrea Del Fierro Franco Perez Francisco Manquehual
Jonathan Urrutia Pablo Santibañez Alfredo Zúñiga