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Revista Chapingo serie ciencias forestales y del ambiente

versão On-line ISSN 2007-4018versão impressa ISSN 2007-3828

Rev. Chapingo ser. cienc. for. ambient vol.21 no.2 Chapingo Mai./Ago. 2015 

Post-fire ecological restoration of a mixed Pinus-Quercus forest in northeastern Mexico


Restauración ecológica post-incendio de un bosque mixto de Pinus-Quercus del noreste de México


Eduardo Alanís-Rodríguez1*; Alejandro Valdecantos-Dema2,3; Javier Jiménez-Pérez1; Ernesto A. Rubio-Camacho4; José I. Yerena-Yamallel1; Marco A. González-Tagle1


1 Facultad de Ciencias Forestales, Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León. Carretera Linares-Cd. Victoria km 145. Apartado postal 41, C. P. 67700. Linares, Nuevo León, MÉXICO. Correo-e:, Tel.: (821) 21 2 48 95 ext. 232 (*Autor para correspondencia).

2 Centro de Estudios Ambientales del Mediterráneo. Parque Tecnológico, Charles R. Darwin núm. 14. Valencia, ESPAÑA.

3 Campo Experimental Centro-Altos de Jalisco, Centro de Investigación Regional Pacífico Centro, INIFAP. km 8 Carretera libre Tepatitlán-Lagos de Moreno. Apartado postal 56, C. P. 47600. Jalisco, MÉXICO.

4 Departamento de Ecología, Universidad de Alicante, Carretera San Vicente del Raspeig s/n - 03690 San Vicente del Raspeig – Alicante, ESPAÑA.


Received: July 31, 2014.
Accepted: May 20, 2015.



This study was conducted in a burned Pinus-Quercus forest in Chipinque Ecological Park (NE Mexico), where several restoration measures were implemented after a wildfire. The main objectives of the study were to evaluate the establishment of planted Pinus pseudostrobus (Lindl.) seedlings, and analyze the effect of contour-felled logs on soil retention, ten years after treatment implementation. A 35 % plantation survival rate, which is considered unacceptable, was recorded. Contour-felled logs significantly improved soil retention, increasing soil depth by 25%. We conclude that post-fire restoration measures were successful and their use in the rehabilitation of burned Pinus-Quercus forests in Sierra Madre Oriental is recommended as they contribute to the establishment of a key species and reduce soil loss.

Keywords: Reforestation, Pinus pseudostrobus, soil retention measures, Chipinque Ecological Park.



La presente investigación se desarrolló en un bosque de Pinus-Quercus en el Parque Ecológico Chipinque (noreste de México), el cual fue afectado por un incendio forestal y sometido a tratamiento de restauración ecológica. Los objetivos fueron evaluar el establecimiento artificial de Pinus pseudostrobus (Lindl.) y analizar el efecto de las barreras de retención de suelo después de 10 años de su instalación. Para ello se estableció un área de estudio con tratamiento de restauración ecológica y otra área sin tratamiento en las que se muestreó la comunidad vegetal y la profundidad del suelo. De acuerdo con los resultados, se registró 35 % de supervivencia de la plantación, la cual se considera como no aceptable. Las barreras de retención de suelo tuvieron efecto positivo, pues incrementaron la profundidad del suelo hasta 25 %. Con la investigación se concluye que las técnicas de restauración post-incendio aplicadas han sido eficaces, ya que incorporan una especie clave de ecosistemas maduros y evitan la pérdida de suelo por arrastre, por lo que se recomienda su uso en rodales de Pinus-Quercus afectados por incendios en la Sierra Madre Oriental.

Palabras clave: Plantación, Pinus pseudostrobus, obras de retención de suelo, Parque Ecológico Chipinque.



Wildfires are one of the most common disturbance factors in the temperate ecosystems of northeastern Mexico (Coahuila, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas) (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2011; González-Tagle, Schwendenmann, Pérez, & Schulz, 2008; Yocom et al., 2010). These forests have the potential for a frequent, low-severity fire regime (Jardel-Peláez, Alvarado-Celestino, Morfín-Rios, Castillo-Navarro, & Flores-Garnica, 2009; Rodríguez- Trejo, 2008); however, modification of the natural regime by fire suppression since 1930 (Yocom et al., 2010) has led to high fuel accumulation, favoring more intense and severe fires (Secretaría del Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales [SEMARNAT], 2014). Currently, wildfires are considered one of the most significant problems in northeastern Mexico. Both the number of fires and the affected area have increased in the last decade. In the northeastern region of Mexico, SEMARNAT (2014) reports an average of 11,658 ha·yr-1 of burned area for the five-year period from 2001 to 2005, 38,625 ha·yr-1 for the period 2006-2010, and 329,575 ha·yr-1 for 2011-2013. This problem also extends to protected natural areas such as Chipinque Ecological Park (hereafter referred to by its Spanish acronym PECh), located in Nuevo León, Mexico.

In PECh, wildfires mainly affect Pinus-Quercus forests (González-Tagle, Schwendenmann, Jiménez, & Himmelsbach, 2007). These events, in addition to eliminating all or part of the vegetation, increase the vulnerability of the ecosystem to erosion, especially in areas of rugged terrain (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2008; Benavides-Solorio & MacDonald, 2005). It is widely recognized that one of the main problems of wildfires, not just in the short term, is increased runoff and sediment production. Llovet, Ruiz-Valera, Josa, and Vallejo (2009) studied the effects of fire in mature pine forests under Mediterranean conditions and found that the highest level of erosion took place three years after the fire, which is highly related to poor plant cover recovery.

According to research conducted in mature Pinus-Quercus ecosystems in the region, the most abundant and dominant species is Pinus pseudostrobus (Lindl.) (González-Tagle et al., 2007; Jiménez, Aguirre, & Kramer, 2001).This species, despite having thick bark that protects the meristems from the direct impact of fire, does not survive medium- or high-severity fires (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2010). The presence of P. pseudostrobus in the area after a fire is determined by its seed bank, so frequent fires that prevent it from reaching reproductive maturity result in local and temporary loss of the species (Alanis-Rodríguez et al., 2008). Therefore, under these circumstances of repeated fires, the only way to recover the presence of key species is by artificial reintroduction (Pausas et al., 2004).

Wildfires have major impacts on certain ecological community indices. Alanís-Rodríguez et al. (2008) observed, 10 years after a forest fire, notable changes in the abundance, diversity and frequency of the most important tree species of a mixed Pinus-Quercus forest in northeastern Mexico. Similarly, there has been a significant decline in the dominance values and, as a result, an increase in the importance value indices of the most significant species in burned compared to unburned areas (Maldonado, Rodríguez, Guízar, Velázquez, & Náñez, 2009).

In priority management places, such as protected natural areas and ecological parks, it is common to act immediately after wildfires, both with the aim of reducing the impact and rehabilitating the area (Beghin et al., 2010) respectively. The most common practices worldwide are planting herbaceous (Infalt & Young, 2008; Li, Liao, Jiang, Huang, & He, 2010) and woody species (Jiménez, Jurado, Aguirre, & Estrada, 2005; Mata et al., 2010; Ortiz-Rodríguez & Rodríguez-Trejo, 2008), mulching (de Wolfe, Santi, Ey, & Gartner, 2008) and placing soil retention barriers (Myronidis, Emmanouloudis, Mitsopoulos, & Riggos, 2010). In northeastern Mexico, the most common practices are reforesting with woody species and establishing soil retention barriers (Comisión Nacional Forestal [CONAFOR], 2006). The objectives of these measures are, in extreme cases, to prevent irreversible degradation of the uppermost and most fertile soil layer, and to favor the establishment of key ecosystem species at risk of disappearing.

Ecological rehabilitation measures implemented in mixed Pinus-Quercus forests in northeastern Mexico have been poorly evaluated and their effectiveness is still unknown. Because of this limited knowledge, it has not yet been determined whether these practices are to be recommended. It is hypothesized that the reforestation treatment will increase the density of P. pseudostrobus individuals, tree density and crown area in the medium term, and that soil conservation measures will increase soil retention. In this context, the objectives of this research are: 1) to evaluate the survival and vitality, in the medium term, of P. pseudostrobus individuals planted in a burned PECh area, 2) to estimate theabundance and crown area (dominance) variables of the plant communities, and 3) to analyze the effectiveness of the soil retention treatment.



Study area

The study was conducted in Chipinque Ecological Park (PECh), which belongs to the Cumbres de Monterrey National Park Protected Natural Area (Figure 1). PECh is located in San Pedro Garza García and Monterrey counties, Nuevo León (northeastern Mexico). The research was conducted in a mixed Pinus-Quercus stand at 1,125 m elevation, at geographic coordinates 100° 18 and 100° 24 WL, and 25° 33' and 25° 35' NL. Species that stand out for their abundance are P. pseudostrobus, Quercus rysophylla (Weath), Q. laeta (Liemb), Q. polymorpha (Schltdl. & Cham.), Q. laceyi (Small) and Q. canbyi (Trel.) (González-Tagle et al., 2008) According to the FAO- UNESCO classification system (FAO, 1998), the soil corresponds to a Leptosol, characterized by being very shallow.

In April 1998, a wildfire affected 500 hectares of a mixed Pinus-Quercus ecosystem in PECh (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2010). The fire spread through both the surface and crown and lasted six days, burning plant elements (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2008). Species of the genus Quercus suffered damage to the aerial part, but as a strategy they have the ability to resprout from underground structures, enabling them to quickly regenerate aerial tissues (Zavala-Chávez, 2001). On the other hand, P. pseudostrobus is a species resistant to low-intensity fire, thanks to its thick bark and physically protected terminal buds that allow recovering burned foliage, especially in young stages (Rodríguez-Trejo & Fulé, 2003). In May 1998 an ecological rehabilitation project began on 480 ha, maintaining a 20-ha area for natural secondary succession development. This area not subjected to restoration was used as a control in this study. The rehabilitation treatment, known as contour-felled logs, consisted of placing burned tree material in contour lines perpendicular to the slope with a distance of 3 m from each other. This treatment's main objective was to control runoff and retain and accumulate soil (Myronidis et al., 2010; Robichaud, 2005). In September of the same year, coinciding with the period of greatest rainfall, the area was reforested with one-year-old P. pseudostrobus seedlings at a density of 2,000 individuals·ha-1. The seedlings had a height of 15 cm and were established with the rootball substrate. Dead seedlings were replaced annually over the next five years (1999-2003). Species of the genus Quercus presented numerous shoots that were pruned during the years 1998 to 2003, leaving only the shoot with the largest diameter (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2010). Pruning was carried out not only to promote the growth of the main shoo, but also to decrease Quercus leaf area and promote the growth of P. pseudostrobus, since it is a species with high light requirements (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2008).

Field assessment

In June 2008, 10 years after the fire, a medium-term assessment was made of the rehabilitation treatment applied. For this reason, we established a study area with ecological rehabilitation treatment and another without treatment, wherein the plant community and soil depth were sampled.

The two areas had similar ecological conditions: a mixed Pinus-Quercus ecosystem, dry climate, elevation between 1,100 and 1,150 m, Litosol soil, slope between 30 and 35° and northeast exposure. In each area (with and without rehabilitation treatment) four plots of 10 x 10 m were established, totaling eight plots. This plot size has been used to evaluate plant communities in post-fire regenerated areas of mixed Pinus-Quercus forests (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2008; Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2012) and areas with low-growing vegetation (Canizales-Velázquez et al., 2009). The areas had an equidistance of 20 m between them to avoid soil and elevation variations (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2010). In the plots, all woody species with ≥ 1 cm stem diameter were identified and crown diameters were measured in a North-South and East-West direction. In the rehabilitated area all pseudostrobus individuals were classified according to their vigor, categorizing them as 1) Excellent, 2) Fair, and 3) Likely to die (modified classification of Flores & Almanza, 1991). Individuals considered as excellent are those that were in the upper stratum (≥ 6 m) with a vigorous crown and green needles. Fair individuals were those in the middle stratum (3-6 m) with high crown competition conditions with Quercus spp. Finally, individuals in the likely to die category were those in the lower stratum (<3 m) with a suppressed crown and mostly yellow needles.

Soil depth was determined in the same plots where vegetation was assessed; a network of 5 x 5 m was established to define the sampling points at each intersection (nine points per site). Depth was measuredby digging with a shovel until reaching bedrock.

Data analysis

P. pseudostrobus survival was estimated by de termining the proportion of live trees with respect to planted trees, using the formula of Ramírez-Delgadillo (2011):


P = Proportion of live trees

ai= Number of live trees at site i

mi= Number of trees planted at site i.

The relative role of tree species was evaluated using the ecological indicators of abundance (RAi), dominance (RDi), frequency (RFi) and importance value index (IVI) as a means of valuation (Magurran, 1988). Specific relative abundance was estimated by applying the following equation:


ARi = Relative abundance of species i relative to total abundance

Ai = Abundance of species i

Ni= Number of individuals of species i

S = Sampling area (ha)

Relative dominance (RDi) was estimated using:


RDi = Relative dominance of species i relative to total dominance

Di= Dominance of species i (m2)

Cai= Crown area of species i

S = Sampling area (ha)

Relative frequency (RFi) was obtained with the following equations:


RFi = Relative frequency of species i relative to total frequency

Fi = Frequency of species i

Pi = Frequency of species i in the plots

TN =Total number of plots

The Importance Value Index (IVI) was defined as:

The structure of the community in terms of the abundance of each species was determined with rank- abundance curve (Magurran, 1988). These curves describe the graphical relationshipbetween the absolute abundance value of species based on a sequential arrangement ranging from the most common to the rarest (Martella et al., 2012). The models tested were: 1) Poisson-lognormal, 2) Weibull distribution and 3) Alonso & Mc Kane's neutral distribution (Prado & Dantas, 2014). The parameters were estimated with the maximum likelihood method and the best model was selected using the Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) where the best model is the one with the lowest AIC value (Prado & Dantas, 2014). The analysis was carried out by means of R v3.1.2 (R Development Core Team, 2011), using the package "SADS" (Prado & Dantas, 2014). Significant differences in the abundance and dominance of species and in soil depth between the areas with and without rehabilitation treatment were determined by an analysis of variance (P = 0.05) of a factor (treatment) with two levels (rehabilitated and non-rehabilitated) using the statistical package SPSS v. 15.0 (SPSS, 2006).



In the two evaluated areas (rehabilitated and non- rehabilitated) of the mixed Pinus-Quercus stand in PECh, 14 woody species comprising eight families and 10 genera were recorded. The rank-abundance curve describes the graphical relationship of the density of the species based on a sequential arrangement ranging from the most abundant to the rarest (Martella et al., 2012). Figure 2 shows the abundance of species in the rehabilitated and non-rehabilitated areas; in both cases, the pattern is graphically fit to the Poisson-lognormal distribution. In the non-rehabilitated area, the AIC obtained with the Poisson-lognormal distribution was 152.8, while with the Weibull distribution and the Zero-Sum-Multinomial goal it was 156.4 and 160.1, respectively. In the rehabilitated area, the AIC was 113.2 with the Poisson-lognormal, while with the Weibull distribution and the Zero-Sum-multinomial goal it was 115.5 and 118.7, respectively. The Poisson-lognormal distribution is documented for mature plant communities, where there are few families or species with high or low abundance values, with most having intermediate values (Long, Yang, & Li, 2012; Martella et al., 2012; Matthews & Whittaker, 2014).

Table 1 reports the tree density and ecological indicators of the two evaluated areas (rehabilitated and non-rehabilitated). The non-rehabilitated area had a density of 5,300 ± 1,028 individuals·ha-1 with a total crown area of 17,790 ± 963 m2·ha-1, while the rehabilitated area had a density of 3,231 ± 535 individuals·ha-1 with a crown area of 13,117 ± 2,431 m2·ha-1. This means that both have greater than 100% cover and therefore overlapping crowns. According to the analysis of variance, the mean values of density (F = 2.788, P = 0.146) and crown area (F = 1.760, P = 0.233) of the plant communities showed no significant differences (P = 0.05) relative to the rehabilitation treatment.

The species with the highest IVI in both areas was Q. rysophylla (55.3 and 49.2% in the rehabilitated and non-rehabilitated areas, respectively), being the most abundant, dominant and prevalent. Due to the reforestation measures, the species with the second highest IVI in the rehabilitated area was P. pseudostrobus with 15.7%. Analysis of variance by species showed significant differences, with P. pseudostrobus being more abundant (F = 14,764; P = 0.009) and dominant (F = 6.247, P = 0.047) in the rehabilitated area than in the control area. The remaining species showed no significant differences in their abundance and dominance.

Reforestation analysis

In 2008, 35% survival of the 2,000 individuals·ha-1 of P. pseudostrobus planted in the rehabilitated area in 1998 and in successive replacements of dead seedlings in the period 1999-2003 was recorded. According to the classification of P. pseudostrobus individuals based on their vigor, 52 % of the pines were included in the excellent class, 7% in the fair class and 41% in the likely to die class. It should be noted that the specimens passed through the initial establishment and growth stages that are considered the most critical, since the seedlings are highly susceptible to extreme weather conditions such as extremely high winds, low or high temperatures, and low precipitation and relative humidity, among others(Jiménez-Pérez, Alanís-Rodríguez, González-Tagle, Aguirre-Calderón, & Treviño-Garza, 2013).

Woody species established after the wildfire in the rehabilitation area showed high density and a crown area greater than 100 %, causing high competition for light. In order to ensure the good development of P. pseudostrobus, which is a sun-loving species (González- Tagle et al., 2008) it would be advisable to partly remove neighboring trees to reduce the crown overlap area and thus promote the optimal development of individuals (Alanís-Rodríguez et al., 2008). Ecological rehabilitation as referred to in this study included the removal of all shoots except one in the Quercus sp individuals. However, 10 years after treatment, no significant differences (P = 0.05) in the crown cover of both species were observed, suggesting compensatory growth of replacement individuals (Alvarez, Villagra, Villalba, & Debandi, 2013).

From a technical and economic standpoint, the plantation survival rate (35%) is not acceptable since CONAFOR, Mexico's National Forestry Commission, which funded the reforestation programs, requires 90% survival. Therefore, new scientific research aimed at increasing the effectiveness of reforestation methods, from quality plant production to improvements in the design, implementation and maintenance of forest plantations, is recommended. Based on the results of this research, we recommend prioritizing research that analyzes plantation management, particularly in the partial removal of neighboring trees to reduce the overlapping crown area and thus promote and increase the survival percentage of key species.

Contour-felled logs

Contour-felled logs had a positive effect on soil accumulation (F = 10.124, P = 0.002). Figure 3 shows that the average soil depth in the area with contour-felled logs was 24.7 ± 6.6 cm, while in the area without them it was 19.9 ± 6.8 cm, representing a relative increase of nearly 25 %. This indicates that the contour-felled logs were efficient, so their use is recommended to prevent soil loss by entrainment in areas affected by fire at sites with biophysical conditions similar to those found in the Sierra Madre Oriental. Soil depth in this study is similar to that recorded by Salgado, López, and Acosta (2006), who evaluated a Leptosol soil and determined a depth of 15 cm.

The soil amount retained by the contour-felled logs over 10 years is high (479 m3·ha-1) compared with other research. It has been observed that soil accumulation, three years after placing contour-felled logs, ranged from 5 m3·ha-1 in Washington National Park (Robichaud, 2001) to 67 m3·ha-1 in central Colorado(Wagenbrenner, MacDonald, & Rough, 2006). Cases have also been reported such as that of the San Jacinto Mountains in California where 152 m3·ha-1 were accumulated due to storms that occurred after a fire (Wohlgemuth, Hubbert, & Robichaud, 2001).

It is important to mention that PECh has a rainy season with storms in summer (August to October), with September being the month with the highest incidence of rainfall, ranging between 80 and 90 mm (Instituto Nacional de Estadística, Geografía e Informática [INEGI], 1986). Because of the conditions of the area burned in the summer of 1998 (little plant cover, 30-35° slope and rainstorms), the soil was entrained and deposited in the contour-felled logs.



Based on the results of this study, we conclude that: 1) from a technical and economic standpoint, the plantation survival rate (35%) is not acceptable as CONAFOR requires 90 % survival, so it is not recommended to undertake plantings without implementing appropriate techniques during the reforestation process; 2) the density and crown area of the plant communities in the treatment and control areas showed statistical similarity, meaning that the treatment did not increase those characteristics; and 3) that the contour-felled logs used in post-fire areas had a positive and significant effect on soil retention. This indicates that the soil retention barrier techniques have been effective, since they prevent soil loss by entrainment; therefore, they are recommended in post-fire stands in the Sierra Madre Oriental at high risk of erosion.



The authors thank Mexico's National Science and Technology Council (CONACYT) for awarding a scholarship to the first author. The authors acknowledge the support of: Lillian Belle Willcockson, Director General of Chipinque Ecological Park, for all the help provided; Glafiro J. Alanís Flores for support in identifying species; and Perla Cecilia García Galindo, Erick I. Meléndez López and Esaú Ian Moreno for their cooperation in field activities. The CEAM Foundation is fundedby Generalitat Valenciana.



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