Effect of fuel treatments and backfiring on the recovery of an obligate seeder-dominated heathland

  • Cristina Fernández Filgueira Centro de Investigación Forestal. Xunta de Galicia. Pontevedra. http://orcid.org/0000-0003-4134-8727
  • José A. Vega Hidalgo Centro de Investigación Forestal. Xunta de Galicia. Pontevedra.
Keywords: prescribed burning, clearing, mechanical shredding, Erica, wildfire


Aim of study: To evaluate how a plant community responded to a backfire that occurred four years after application of different types of fuel-reduction treatments.

Area of study: Erica umbellata Loefl. (L.)-dominated heathland in Galicia (NW Spain).

Materials and Methods: Shrub cover surveys in 16 experimental plots from 2006 to 2014. Fuel reduction treatments (prescribed burning, clearing and mastication) were applied in the spring of 2006 and the area was burned by a wildfire in the summer of 2010.

Main results: Shrub total cover recovered quickly after the backfire in both the treated and untreated areas, and the pre-treatment values were reached four years after the fire. Post-wildfire resprouting species cover recovery was not affected by fuel treatments. As a contrast,  Erica umbellata cover reached levels similar to those in the untreated plots only in the areas treated by prescribed burning. After the wildfire, grasses cover recovery was greater in the treated than in the untreated areas and the effect lasted until the end of the study.

Research highlights: Prescribed fire and backfire was favourable for Erica umbellata regeneration compared to clearing and mastication.

Keywords: prescribed burning; clearing; mechanical shredding; Erica; wildfire. 


Download data is not yet available.



Calvo L, Tárrega R, Luis E, Valbuena L, Marcos E, 2005. Recovery after experimental cutting and burning in three shrub communities with different dominant species. Plant Eco 180(2): 175-185. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11258-005-0200-z

Core Team Development R, 2014. R: A language and environment for statistical computing. 3.1.1 edn. R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria.

Davies MG, Gray A, Hamilton A, Legg CJ, 2008. The future of fire management in the British uplands. Int J Biodiv Sci & Manage 4(3): 127-147. http://dx.doi.org/10.3843/Biodiv.4.3:1

Fernández C, Vega J, 2014. Shrub recovery after fuel reduction treatments and a subsequent fire in a Spanish heathland. Plant Eco 215(11): 1233-1243. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11258-014-0381-4

Fernández C, Vega JA, 2016. Shrub recovery after fuel reduction treatments in a gorse shrubland in northern Spain. J. Environ Manage 166: 211-216. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2015.10.028

Fernández C, Vega JA, Fonturbel T, 2013a. Effects of fuel reduction treatments on a gorse shrubland soil seed bank in the north of Spain: Comparing mastication and prescribed burning. Eco Eng 57: 79-87. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.ecoleng.2013.04.010

Fernández C, Vega JA, Fonturbel T, 2013b. Fuel reduction at a Spanish heathland by prescribed fire and mechanical shredding: Effects on seedling emergence. J Environ Manage 129: 621-627. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2013.08.034

Fernández C, Vega J, Fonturbel T, 2015. Does shrub recovery differ after prescribed burning, clearing and mastication in a Spanish heathland? Plant Eco 216(3): 429-437. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11258-015-0447-y

Mu-oz A, García-Duro J, Álvarez R, Pesqueira XM, Reyes O, Casal M, 2012a. Structure and diversity of Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix heathlands at different successional stages after cutting. J Environ Manage.94: 34-40. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2011.08.006

Mu-oz A, Pesqueira XM, García-Duro J, Álvarez R, Reyes O, Casal M, 2012b. Conservation of Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix communities: The role of land management and physical environment on the composition, species richness and presence of endemic taxa. Wetlands 32: 693-703. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13157-012-0301-0

Mu-oz A, Basanta M, Díaz-Vizcaíno E, Reyes O, Casal M, 2014. Land use changes effect on floristic composition, diversity and surface occupied by Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix heathlands of NW Spain. Land Degrad Develop 25: 532-540. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ldr.2179

Reyes O, Casal M, 2008. Regeneration models and plant regenerative types related to the intensity of fire in Atlantic shrubland and woodland species. J Veg Sci 19(4): 575-583. http://dx.doi.org/10.3170/2008-8-18412

Reyes O, Casal M, Castro Rego F, 2009. Resprouting ability of six Atlantic shrub species. Folia Geobot 44: 19-29. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s12224-009-9029-x

Rivas M, Reyes O, Casal M, 2006. Influence of heat and smoke treatments in the germination of six leguminous shrubby species. Int J Wild Fire 15: 73-80. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF05008

Schimmel J, Granstrom A, 1996. Fire severity and vegetation response in the boreal Swedish forest. Ecology 77(5): 1436-1450. http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/2265541

van Wilgen BW, 2013. Fire management in species-rich Cape fynbos shrublands. Front Ecol Environ 11: e35-e44. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/120137

Vega JA, Pérez-Gorostiaga P, Cui-as P, Fonturbel T, Fernández C, 2001. Manual de quemas prescritas para matorrales de Galicia. Conselleria de Medio Ambiente. Xunta de Galicia, Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Vega JA, Fontúrbel MT, Merino A, Fernández C, Ferreiro A, Jiménez E, 2013. Testing the ability of visual indicators of soil burn severity to reflect changes in soil chemical and microbial properties in pine forests and shrubland. Plant Soil 369: 73-91. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11104-012-1532-9

Vilá-Cabrera A, Saura-Mas S, Lloret F, 2008. Effects of fire frequency on species composition in a Mediterranean shrubland. Ecoscience 15(4): 519-528. http://dx.doi.org/10.2980/15-4-3164

How to Cite
Fernández FilgueiraC., & Vega HidalgoJ. A. (2016). Effect of fuel treatments and backfiring on the recovery of an obligate seeder-dominated heathland. Forest Systems, 25(3), eSC12. https://doi.org/10.5424/fs/2016253-09119
Short communications