skip to main content


The NSF Public Access Repository (NSF-PAR) system and access will be unavailable from 11:00 PM ET on Thursday, May 23 until 2:00 AM ET on Friday, May 24 due to maintenance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Search for: All records

Creators/Authors contains: "Stephens, Scott L."

Note: When clicking on a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number, you will be taken to an external site maintained by the publisher. Some full text articles may not yet be available without a charge during the embargo (administrative interval).
What is a DOI Number?

Some links on this page may take you to non-federal websites. Their policies may differ from this site.

  1. Abstract

    As climate change increases fire frequency in Mediterranean‐type shrublands, it is essential to understand the links between common postfire plant assemblages and soil nitrogen (N) and carbon (C) cycling during succession. In California chaparral, periodic fire removes shrub cover, deposits ammonium (NH4+‐N) on soils, and allows herbaceous assemblages to dominate for 3–5 years. Herbs influence soil biogeochemistry through several mechanisms, including nutrient uptake, litter decomposition, and rhizodeposition. Controlled experimental removal of select plant groups from wild assemblages can demonstrate interactions between plant groups and how plant traits influence belowground processes. In a two‐year herb‐removal experiment, we investigated the impact of N‐fixing and non‐N‐fixing herbs on soil N and C cycling. Treatments were (1) all herbs, (2) only non‐N‐fixing species, (3) only N‐fixing species, and (4) no herbs. In high‐N environments, N‐fixers were predicted to compete poorly against non‐N‐fixing neighbors. N‐fixers doubled in abundance when non‐N‐fixers were removed, but non‐N‐fixers were unaffected by N‐fixer removal. Two years after fire, no‐herbs plots had the lowest soil microbial respiration rates, and total accumulated C and N were lower than all‐herb plots. Two treatments, no‐herb and N‐fixer plots, had elevated mineral N concentrations, net N mineralization, and net nitrification in the second year of the experiment. Our findings underscore the importance of fire‐following herbs for postfire N retention and organic matter accumulation. A combination of both N‐fixing and non‐N‐fixing herbs maximized total soil C and N, although the accumulation of TC and TN in all‐herb plots was not significantly higher than in non‐N‐fixer plots. Results demonstrated the key role of non‐N‐fixing herbs in accumulating soil C and herbaceous communities for retaining N. Elevated soil nutrient availability two years postfire may contribute to the long‐term recovery of shrubs, even after herbs are no longer dominant. Future investigations should also consider the magnitude of soil microbial N retention in plots with different herb functional groups, along with the species‐specific contribution of non‐N‐fixing herbs to postfire C and N cycling.

    more » « less
  2. null (Ed.)
  3. Abstract Reducing the risk of large, severe wildfires while also increasing the security of mountain water supplies and enhancing biodiversity are urgent priorities in western US forests. After a century of fire suppression, Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks located in California’s Sierra Nevada initiated programs to manage wildfires and these areas present a rare opportunity to study the effects of restored fire regimes. Forest cover decreased during the managed wildfire period and meadow and shrubland cover increased, especially in Yosemite’s Illilouette Creek basin that experienced a 20% reduction in forest area. These areas now support greater pyrodiversity and consequently greater landscape and species diversity. Soil moisture increased and drought-induced tree mortality decreased, especially in Illilouette where wildfires have been allowed to burn more freely resulting in a 30% increase in summer soil moisture. Modeling suggests that the ecohydrological co-benefits of restoring fire regimes are robust to the projected climatic warming. Support will be needed from the highest levels of government and the public to maintain existing programs and expand them to other forested areas. 
    more » « less
  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract The complexity of forest structures plays a crucial role in regulating forest ecosystem functions and strongly influences biodiversity. Yet, knowledge of the global patterns and determinants of forest structural complexity remains scarce. Using a stand structural complexity index based on terrestrial laser scanning, we quantify the structural complexity of boreal, temperate, subtropical and tropical primary forests. We find that the global variation of forest structural complexity is largely explained by annual precipitation and precipitation seasonality (R² = 0.89). Using the structural complexity of primary forests as benchmark, we model the potential structural complexity across biomes and present a global map of the potential structural complexity of the earth´s forest ecoregions. Our analyses reveal distinct latitudinal patterns of forest structure and show that hotspots of high structural complexity coincide with hotspots of plant diversity. Considering the mechanistic underpinnings of forest structural complexity, our results suggest spatially contrasting changes of forest structure with climate change within and across biomes. 
    more » « less