Novel disturbance interactions between fire and an emerging disease impact survival and growth of resprouting trees.
Human-altered ecological disturbances may challenge system resilience and disrupt biological legacies maintaining ecosystem recovery. Yet, the extent to which novel regimes challenge these legacies varies. This may be partially explained by differences in the vulnerability of life history strategies to disturbance characteristics. In the fire-prone, resprouter-dominated coast redwood forests of California, the introduced disease sudden oak death (SOD) alters fuel profiles, fire behavior, and aboveground tree mortality; however, this system is dominated by resprouting trees that are well-adapted to aboveground damage, and belowground survival of individuals may represent the principal biological legacy connecting pre- and post-fire communities. Much of the research exploring altered disturbances and forest recovery has focused on legacies determined by seed dispersal and aboveground survival of adults. In this work, we use pre- and post-fire data from a long-term monitoring network to assess the impacts of novel disturbance interactions between wildfire and SOD on the belowground survival and vegetative reproduction of resprouters. We found that increasing accumulation of coarse woody surface fuels from SOD-killed hosts decreased the likelihood of belowground survival for resprouting tanoak trees, but not for redwoods. Tanoaks' belowground survival was negatively related to substrate burn severity, which increased with the volume of surface fuels from hosts, suggesting heat damage as a possible mechanism influencing altered patterns of resprouter mortality. These impacts increased with decreasing tree size. By contrast, redwood and tanoak trees that survived both disturbances resprouted more vigorously, regardless of post-fire infection by P. ramorum, and generated similar recruitment at the stand level. Our results demonstrate that disease-fire interactions can narrow recruitment filters for resprouters, which could impact long-term population and demographic structure; yet, compounded disturbance may also reduce stand density and disease pressure, allowing competitive release of survivors. Resprouters displayed vulnerabilities to altered disturbance, but our research suggests that legacies maintained by resprouting may be more resilient to certain compounded disturbances, compared to seed-obligate species, because of high rates of individual survival under increasingly severe events. These trends have important implications for conservation of declining tree species in SOD-impacted forests, as well as predictions of human impacts in other disturbance-prone systems where resprouters are present.