skip to main content

Title: Effects of Fire Intensity and Abiotic Factors on Persistence of an Encroaching Woody Species
Over the past century, rangelands worldwide have experienced changes in vegetation cover and structure, many transitioning from grass-dominated to shrub-dominated systems (Archer et al. 2017; Fuhlendorf et al. 2017). In North America, such transitions are primarily a consequence of livestock management and fire exclusion practices of Euro-American settlers (Bray 1904; Archer 1989; Fuhlendorf and Smeins 1997). These shrub-dominated systems are often less productive for wildlife and livestock and may have crossed a threshold which cannot be reversed via common restoration practices such as prescribed fire (Ansley and Castellano 2006; Ratajczak et al. 2016). Oftentimes, the inability of prescribed fire to succeed at crossing this threshold is the result of insufficient fuel loading or inadequate fire intensity due to prescription parameters (Havstad and James 2010; Twidwell et al. 2016). However, recent work has demonstrated that burning under more extreme conditions (e.g. higher temperatures, lower fine fuel moisture) can slow or change the course of encroachment (Twidwell et al. 2013; Twidwell et al. 2016). Many encroaching shrub species are capable of persisting after fire via resprouting from protected buds (Bond and Midgley 2001). Such mechanisms pose challenges for land managers, particularly because resprouting often results in a higher number of stems per individual plant. Mesquite (Prosopis spp.) shrubs are well-known for their ability to persist to varying degrees following disturbance due to fire, chemical, and mechanical treatments. Due to historical livestock management and fire suppression practices, honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) has increased in dominance and abundance in the southern Great Plains since the beginning of Euro-American settlement (Bray 1904; Archer 1989). Although prescribed fire has increased in acceptance as a method to reduce encroachment of mesquite, low-intensity fires performed during the dormant season rarely cause mortality (Wright and Bailey 1980; Ansley et al. 1998), especially when they are performed as a single treatment rather than as part of a comprehensive management plan. However, recent studies have demonstrated that more intense fires conducted outside the dormant season are capable of reducing resprouters (including mesquite), particularly during periods of drought (Twidwell et al. 2016). We evaluated impacts of fire intensity and abiotic factors on persistence of honey mesquite, a species of concern for managers in the southern Great Plains.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1735362 1920938
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Proceedings of the Albuquerque Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference
Page Range / eLocation ID:
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract

    North American grasslands have experienced increased relative abundance of shrubs and trees over the last 150 yr. Alterations in herbivore composition, abundance, and grazing pressure along with changes in fire frequency are drivers that can regulate the transition from grassland to shrubland or woodland (a process known as woody encroachment). Historically, North American grasslands had a suite of large herbivores that grazed and/or browsed (i.e., bison, elk, pronghorn, deer), as well as frequent and intense fires. In the tallgrass prairie, many large native ungulates were extirpated by the 1860s, corresponding with increased homesteading (which led to decreased fire frequencies and intensities). Changes in the frequency and intensity of these two drivers (browsing and fire) have coincided with woody encroachment in tallgrass prairie. Within tallgrass prairie, woody encroachment can be categorized in to two groups: non‐resprouting species that can be killed with fire and resprouting species that cannot be killed with fire. Resprouting species require additional active management strategies to decrease abundance and eventually be removed from the ecosystem. In this study, we investigated plant cover, ramet density, and physiological effects of continuous simulated browsing and prescribed fire onCornus drummondiiC.A. Mey, a resprouting clonal native shrub species. Browsing reducedC. drummondiicanopy cover and increased grass cover. We also observed decreased ramet density, which allowed for more infilling of grasses. Photosynthetic rates between browsed and unbrowsed control shrubs did not increase in 2015 or 2016. In 2017, photosynthetic rates for browsed shrubs were higher in the unburned site than the unbrowsed control shrubs at the end of the growing season. Additionally, after the prescribed fire, browsed shrubs had ~90% decreased cover, ~50% reduced ramet density, and grass cover increased by ~80%. In the roots of browsed shrubs after the prescribed fire, nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC) experienced a twofold reduction in glucose and a threefold reduction in both sucrose and starch. The combined effects of browsing and fire show strong potential as a successful management tool to decrease the abundance of clonal‐resprouting woody plants in mesic grasslands and illustrate the potential significance of browsers as a key driver in this ecosystem.

    more » « less
  2. Fire-prone landscapes found throughout the world are increasingly managed with prescribed fire for a variety of objectives. These frequent low-intensity fires directly impact lower forest strata, and thus estimating surface fuels or understory vegetation is essential for planning, evaluating, and monitoring management strategies and studying fire behavior and effects. Traditional fuel estimation methods can be applied to stand-level and canopy fuel loading; however, local-scale understory biomass remains challenging because of complex within-stand heterogeneity and fast recovery post-fire. Previous studies have demonstrated how single location terrestrial laser scanning (TLS) can be used to estimate plot-level vegetation characteristics and the impacts of prescribed fire. To build upon this methodology, co-located single TLS scans and physical biomass measurements were used to generate linear models for predicting understory vegetation and fuel biomass, as well as consumption by fire in a southeastern U.S. pineland. A variable selection method was used to select the six most important TLS-derived structural metrics for each linear model, where the model fit ranged in R2 from 0.61 to 0.74. This study highlights prospects for efficiently estimating vegetation and fuel characteristics that are relevant to prescribed burning via the integration of a single-scan TLS method that is adaptable by managers and relevant for coupled fire–atmosphere models.

    more » « less
  3. Recent developments in speleothem science are showing their potential for paleofire reconstruction through a variety of inorganic and organic proxies including trace metals (1) and the pyrogenic organic compound levoglucosan (2). Previous work by Argiriadis et al. (2019) presented a method for the analysis of trace polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and n -alkanes in stalagmites (3). These compounds reflect biogeochemical processes occurring at the land surface, in the soil, and in the cave. PAHs are primarily related to combustion of biomass while n-alkanes, with their potential for vegetation reconstruction (4), provide information on fuel availability and composition, as well as fire activity. These organic molecules are carried downward by infiltrating water and incorporated into speleothems (5), thereby creating the potential to serve as novel paleofire archives. Using this approach, we developed a high-resolution stalagmite record of paleofire activity from cave KNI-51 in tropical northwestern Australia. This site is well suited for high resolution paleofire reconstruction as bushfire activity in this tropical savanna is some of the highest on the continent, the cave is shallow and overlain by extremely thin soils, and the stalagmites are fast-growing (1-2 mm yr-1) and precisely dated. We analyzed three stalagmites which grew continuously in different time intervals through the last millennium - KNI-51-F (CE ~1100-1620), KNI-51-G (CE ~1320-1640), and KNI-51-11 (CE ~1750-2009). Samples were drilled continuously at 1-3 mm resolution from stalagmite slabs, processed in a stainless-steel cleanroom to prevent contamination. Despite a difference in resolution between stalagmites KNI-51-F and -G, peaks in the target compounds show good replication in the overlapping time interval of the two stalagmites, and PAH abundances in a portion of stalagmite KNI-51-11 that grew from CE 2000-2009 are well correlated with satellite-mapped fires occurring proximally to the cave. Our results suggest an increase in the frequency of low intensity fire in the 20th century relative to much of the previous millennium. The timing of this shift is broadly coincident with the arrival of European pastoralists in the late 19th century and the subsequent displacement of Aboriginal peoples from the land. Aboriginal peoples had previously utilized “fire stick farming”, a method of prescribed, low intensity burning, that was an important influence of ecology, biomass, and fire. Prior to the late 1800s, the period with the most frequent low intensity fire activity was the 13th century, the wettest interval of the entire record. Peak high intensity fire activity occurred during the 12th century. Controlled burn and irrigation experiments capable of examining the transmission of pyrogenic compounds from the land surface to cave dripwater represent the next step in this analysis. Given that karst is present in many fire-prone environments, and that stalagmites can be precisely dated and grow continuously for millennia, the potential utility of a stalagmite-based paleofire proxy is high. (1) L.K. McDonough et al., Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta. 325, 258–277 (2022). (2) J. Homann et al., Nat. Commun., 13:7175 (2022). (3) E. Argiriadis et al., Anal. Chem. 91, 7007–7011 (2019). (4) R.T. Bush, F. A. McInerney, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta. 117, 161–179 (2013). (5) Y. Sun et al., Chemosphere. 230, 616–627 (2019). 
    more » « less
  4. Disturbance from fire can affect the abundance and distribution of shrubs and grasses in arid ecosystems. In particular, fire may increase grass and forb production while hindering shrub encroachment. Therefore, prescribed fires are a common management tool for maintaining grassland habitats in the southwest. However, Bouteloua eriopoda (black grama), a dominant species in Chihuahuan Desert grassland, is highly susceptible to fire resulting in death followed by slow recovery rates. A prescribed fire on the Sevilleta National Wildlife refuge in central New Mexico in 2003 provided the opportunity to study the effects of infrequent fires on vegetation in this region. This study was conducted along a transition zone where creosote bushes (Larrea tridentata) are encroaching on a black grama grassland. Before and after the fire, above ground plant productivity and composition were monitored from 2003 to present. Following the prescribed fire, there were fewer individual grass clumps and less above ground grass cover in burned areas compared to unburned areas. This decrease in productivity was primarily from a loss of B. eriopoda. Specifically, B. eriopoda density and cover were significantly lower following the fire with a slow recovery rate in the five years following the fire. Other grasses showed no such adverse response to burning. Data were collected from 2004-2013 and 2018. Data were not collected for 2014-2017. 
    more » « less
  5. Woody plant encroachment of grassland ecosystems is a geographically extensive phenomenon that can lead to rapid land degradation and significantly alter global biogeochemical cycles, and this ecosystem change has been particularly well documented in the desert grassland of the southwestern United States. Fires are known to decrease vegetation cover and increase soil erodibility, and the shifts in wildfire regimes are currently occurring in Chihuahuan Desert. It is generally recognized that the invasion of woody vegetation into grasslands and savannas will increase the carbon stored in arid ecosystems. However, carbon storage may be complicated by disturbance such as wildfire, which alters the distribution and amount of C pools in the drylands. The relative distribution of each vegetation type to the soil C pool and its variability after fires are not well-understood in this ecosystem. This research will investigate the variations of SOC and its vegetation source partition at microsite scale in the woody shrub encroached grassland after the occurrence of fire, which will provide further information on wildfire’s influence on soil C pool dynamics in arid and semiarid lands. The post-fire changes of the spatial pattern of SOC and vegetation contributions in the shrub encroached grassland will be analyzed using a geostatistical method outlined in Guan et al. (2018). Overall, understanding the post-fire redistribution and sources of SOC may provide insights on the important role played by fire, aeolian processes and vegetation in the dynamics of desert grassland ecosystems. 
    more » « less