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Biodiversity and resilience of arthropod communities after fire disturbance in temperate forests

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Changes in ecosystem functions following disturbances are of central concern in ecology and a challenge for ecologists is to understand the factors that affect the resilience of community structures and ecosystem functions. In many forest ecosystems, one such important natural disturbance is fire. The aim of this study was to understand the variation of resilience in six functional groups of invertebrates in response to different fire frequencies in southern Switzerland. We measured resilience by analysing arthropod species composition, abundance and diversity in plots where the elapsed time after single or repeated fires, as determined by dendrochronology, varied. We compared data from these plots with data from plots that had not burned recently and defined high resilience as the rapid recovery of the species composition to that prior to fire. Pooling all functional groups showed that they were more resilient to single fires than to repeated events, recovering 6–14 years after a single fire, but only 17–24 years after the last of several fires. Flying zoophagous and phytophagous arthropods were the most resilient groups. Pollinophagous and epigaeic zoophagous species showed intermediate resilience, while ground-litter saprophagous and saproxylophagous arthropods clearly displayed the lowest resilience to fire. Their species composition 17–24 years post-burn still differed markedly from that of the unburned control plots. Depending on the fire history of a forest plot, we found significant differences in the dominance hierarchy among invertebrate species. Any attempt to imitate natural disturbances, such as fire, through forest management must take into account the recovery times of biodiversity, including functional group composition, to ensure the conservation of multiple taxa and ecosystem functions in a sustainable manner.

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We are grateful to M. Conedera, K. Schiegg, W. Tinner, H. Wagner and P. Pearman for useful comments on the manuscript and discussion of the results. We also thank C. Staehli for helping with data analysis, and S. Dingwall for helping to revise the manuscript. Many thanks are due to the people who helped with the fieldwork (P. Hördegen, P. Wirz, F. Fibbioli, and K. Sigrist) and who identified or checked the species (F. Amiet, S. Barbalat, R. Bärfuss, C. Besuchet, C. Germann, I. Giacalone, A. Hänggi, X. Heer, P. Hördegen, P. Stucky, D. Wyniger, and P. Zahradnik).

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Correspondence to Marco Moretti.

Additional information

Communicated by Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter

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Appendix (Tables 3, 4)

Appendix (Tables 3, 4)


Table 3 a–f Transient or non-transient changes in dominance at the species level. Median value of relative abundance (dominance) in the different functional groups at the unburnt site (control) and the successional stages (<1, 1–3, 6–14, 17–24 years) after single and repeated fires (dominance: (big filled circle) ≥10%, (big open circle) 3.2–9.9%, + 1.0–3.1%, (small filled circle) <1%, −0%)
Table 4 Species whose abundances were significantly affected in the short or long term by single or repeated fires. Mean number of individuals per trap site of fire-affected species varied tenfold either shortly after the fire (<1 year) or at the last successional stage (17–24 years after the last fire). The mean values were tested by ANOVA or non-parametric Mann–Whitney U-test if homogeneity of variance was not achieved

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Moretti, M., Duelli, P. & Obrist, M.K. Biodiversity and resilience of arthropod communities after fire disturbance in temperate forests. Oecologia 149, 312–327 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-006-0450-z

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  • Fire regime
  • Succession
  • Invertebrates
  • Functional groups
  • Switzerland