Surviving in a hostile landscape: Nothofagus alessandrii remnant forests threatened by mega-fires and exotic pine invasion in the coastal range of central Chile


Nothofagus alessandrii, categorized as Endangered on the IUCN Red List, is an endemic, deciduous tree species of the coastal range of central Chile. We assessed the effects of fire severity, invasion by the exotic fire-prone Pinus radiata, and land-cover composition and configuration of the landscape on the resilience of fragments of N. alessandrii after a mega-fire in 2017. We used remote sensing data to estimate land-use classes and cover, fire severity and invasion cover of P. radiata. We monitored forest composition and structure and post-fire responses of N. alessandrii forests in situ for 2 years after the mega-fire. In the coastal Maule region wildfires have been favoured by intense drought and widespread exotic pine plantations, increasing the ability of fire-adapted invasive species to colonize native forest remnants. Over 85% of N. alessandrii forests were moderately or severely burnt. The propagation and severity of fire was probably amplified by the exotic pines located along the edges of, or inside, the N. alessandrii fragments and the highly flammable pine plantations surrounding these fragments (> 60% of land use is pine plantations). Pinus radiata, a fire-adapted pioneer species, showed strong post-fire recruitment within the N. alessandrii fragments, especially those severely burnt. Positive feedback between climate change (i.e. droughts and heat waves), wildfires and pine invasions is driving N. alessandrii forests into an undesirable and probably irreversible state (i.e. a landscape trap). A large-scale restoration programme to design a diverse and less flammable landscape is needed to avoid the loss of these highly threatened forest ecosystems.