Biology ETDs

Publication Date

Summer 8-1-2023


Increased wildfire activity may lead to significant shifts in vegetation dynamics in high elevation mixed conifer forests. These changes raise concerns about the resilience of forests following wildfire, prompting the need for a deeper understanding of post-fire plant community response. We analyzed up to 11 years of post-fire vegetation data from Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico to determine how burned vegetation sites were recovering following high severity wildfire, and whether or not plant communities were transitioning to montane grassland. We found burned understory herbaceous communities were not transitioning into distinctive montane grasslands and were instead recovering to understory herbaceous communities of unburned sites. Burned forest did differ in percentage cover from unburned forests and differences in communities were largely driven by nonnative forb and graminoid species in burned sites. There has been no tree regeneration in any burned plot, suggesting that while understory communities are relatively resilient to fire, in order to restore mixed conifer forests in the short term following high severity fire, an active management strategy will be necessary; otherwise, natural successional processes may take many decades to recover to a forested ecosystem.

Document Type


Degree Name


Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Biology Department

First Committee Member (Chair)

Scott Collins

Second Committee Member

Marcy Litvak

Third Committee Member

Robert Parmenter

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Biology Commons