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Fire in the wake of sudden oak death

Photo of Trees killed by sudden oak death near Big Sur, Calif.Trees killed by sudden oak death near Big Sur, Calif.Snapshot : Study predicts future flammability in plant communities where tanoak has been killed by sudden oak death.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Varner, Julian (Morgan) 
Research Location : California
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1367


Sudden oak death, caused by the fungal pathogen Phytophthora ramorum, has killed many native oak trees in California and southern Oregon. The long-term ecological consequences of the disease are not well understood and forest managers are very interested in the interplay between fire and sudden oak death. To learn more, Forest Service scientist J. Morgan Varner and his colleagues used leaf litter from a variety of tree species in northern California to predict future flammability of the remaining vegetative community, once sudden oak death has basically eradicated native tanoak. They found that flammability was diverse across the native co-occurring species; for example, tanoak leaf litter is highly flammable, but Douglas-fir litter is less so. Their research results suggest that leaf litter flammability may be reduced in forests where tanoak dies and is functionally replaced by Douglas-fir. Their findings supplement previous work that identified (1) increased crown fire risk and (2) greater tree mortality in sites infected with sudden oak death.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • National Fire Plan
  • Humboldt State University
  • University of California Cooperative Extension Service
  • University of California at Davis