Arizona cypress (Hesperocyparis arizonica) to the Horseshoe Two Megafire in a south-eastern Arizona Sky Island mountain range

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We examined the response of Arizona cypress (Hesperocyparis arizonica) to the 2011 Horseshoe Two Megafire in the Chiricahua Mountains, Arizona, USA. We documented cover type, fire severity, cypress mortality and seedling establishment in 60 plots. In plots subject to severe fire, most mature cypresses were killed, the canopy opened and seedlings established abundantly. These results were consistent across three canyons differing in topography and vegetation. Successful regeneration of Arizona cypress contrasts with low seedling establishment for pines in the same area after the Horseshoe Two Fire, a difference possibly explained by abundant serotinous seed production in cypress or its preference for riparian sites protected from extreme fire. Our results firmly establish Arizona cypress as a fire-sensitive but fire-embracing species that depends on stand-replacing fire for regeneration. Given the fire sensitivity of Arizona cypress, however, recent increases in the frequency of high-severity fires in the south-west USA could pose a threat to the long-term viability of this species by preventing individuals from reaching sexual maturity during fire intervals. This scenario, termed the ‘interval squeeze’, has been documented in tecate cypress (H. forbesii) in California. A drier future with more frequent wildfires could pose serious threats to all New World cypresses.

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International Journal of Wildland Fire

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