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Title: Season of prescribed fire determines grassland restoration outcomes after fire exclusion and overgrazing
Abstract

Fire exclusion and mismanaged grazing are globally important drivers of environmental change in mesic C4grasslands and savannas. Although interest is growing in prescribed fire for grassland restoration, we have little long‐term experimental evidence of the influence of burn season on the recovery of herbaceous plant communities, encroachment by trees and shrubs, and invasion by exotic grasses. We conducted a prescribed fire experiment (seven burns between 2001 and 2019) in historically fire‐excluded and overgrazed grasslands of central Texas. Sites were assigned to one of four experimental treatments: summer burns (warm season, lightning season), fall burns (early cool season), winter burns (late cool season), or unburned (fire exclusion). To assess restoration outcomes of the experiment, in 2019, we identified old‐growth grasslands to serve as reference sites. Herbaceous‐layer plant communities in all experimental sites were compositionally and functionally distinct from old‐growth grasslands, with little recovery of perennial C4grasses and long‐lived forbs. Unburned sites were characterized by several species of tree, shrub, and vine; summer sites were characterized by certain C3grasses and forbs; and fall and winter sites were intermediate in composition to the unburned and summer sites. Despite compositional differences, all treatments had comparable plot‐level plant species richness (range 89–95 species/1000 m2). At the local‐scale, summer sites (23 species/m2) and old‐growth grasslands (20 species/m2) supported greater richness than unburned sites (15 species/m2), but did not differ significantly from fall or winter sites. Among fire treatments, summer and winter burns most consistently produced the vegetation structure of old‐growth grasslands (e.g., mean woody canopy cover of 9%). But whereas winter burns promoted the invasive grassBothriochloa ischaemumby maintaining areas with low canopy cover, summer burns simultaneously limited woody encroachment and controlledB. ischaemuminvasion. Our results support a growing body of literature that shows that prescribed fire alone, without the introduction of plant propagules, cannot necessarily restore old‐growth grassland community composition. Nonetheless, this long‐term experiment demonstrates that prescribed burns implemented in the summer can benefit restoration by preventing woody encroachment while also controlling an invasive grass. We suggest that fire season deserves greater attention in grassland restoration planning and ecological research.

 
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Award ID(s):
1931232
NSF-PAR ID:
10449525
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Ecosphere
Volume:
12
Issue:
9
ISSN:
2150-8925
Format(s):
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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Spreadsheet: annual precip_drainage Description: Precipitation measured from nearby Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Weather station, over 2009-2016 study period. Data shown in Figure 1; original data source for precipitation (https://lter.kbs.msu.edu/datatables/7). Drainage estimated from SALUS crop model. Note that drainage is percolation out of the root zone (0-125 cm). Annual precipitation and drainage values shown here are calculated for growing and non-growing crop periods. Variate    Description year    year of the observation crop    “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” precip_G    precipitation during growing period (milliMeter) precip_NG    precipitation during non-growing period (milliMeter) drainage_G    drainage during growing period (milliMeter) drainage_NG    drainage during non-growing period (milliMeter)      2. Spreadsheet: biomass_corn, perennial grasses Description: Maximum aboveground biomass measurements from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass and restored prairie plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2015. Data shown in Figure 2.   Variate    Description year    year of the observation date    day of the observation (mm/dd/yyyy) crop    “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” replicate    each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 station    stations (S1, S2 and S3) of samplings within the plot. For more details, refer to link (https://data.sustainability.glbrc.org/protocols/156) species    plant species that are rooted within the quadrat during the time of maximum biomass harvest. See protocol for more information, refer to link (http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/datatables/36) For maize biomass, grain and whole biomass reported in the paper (weed biomass or surface litter are excluded). Surface litter biomass not included in any crops; weed biomass not included in switchgrass and miscanthus, but included in grass mixture and prairie. fraction    Fraction of biomass biomass_plot    biomass per plot on dry-weight basis (Grams_Per_SquareMeter) biomass_ha    biomass (megaGrams_Per_Hectare) by multiplying column biomass per plot with 0.01 3. Spreadsheet: biomass_poplar Description: Maximum aboveground biomass measurements from poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2015. Data shown in Figure 2. Note that poplar biomass was estimated from crop growth curves until the poplar was harvested in the winter of 2013-14. Variate    Description year    year of the observation method    methods of poplar biomass sampling date    day of the observation (mm/dd/yyyy) replicate    each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 diameter_at_ground    poplar diameter (milliMeter) at the ground diameter_at_15cm    poplar diameter (milliMeter) at 15 cm height biomass_tree    biomass per plot (Grams_Per_Tree) biomass_ha    biomass (megaGrams_Per_Hectare) by multiplying biomass per tree with 0.01 4. Spreadsheet: annual N leaching_vol-wtd conc Description: Annual leaching rate (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) and volume-weighted mean N concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) of nitrate (no3) and dissolved organic nitrogen (don) in the leachate samples collected from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2016. Data for nitrogen leached and volume-wtd mean N concentration shown in Figure 3a and Figure 3b, respectively. Note that ammonium (nh4) concentration were much lower and often undetectable (<0.07 milliGrams_N_Per_Liter). Also note that in 2009 and 2010 crop-years, data from some replicates are missing.    Variate    Description crop    “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” crop-year    year of the observation replicate    each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 no3 leached    annual leaching rates of nitrate (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) don leached    annual leaching rates of don (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) vol-wtd no3 conc.    Volume-weighted mean no3 concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) vol-wtd don conc.    Volume-weighted mean don concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) 5. Spreadsheet: summary_N leached Description: Summary of total amount and forms of N leached (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) and the percent of applied N lost to leaching over the seven years for corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2016. Data for nitrogen amount leached shown in Figure 4a and percent of applied N lost shown in Figure 4b. Note the fraction of unleached N includes in harvest, accumulation in root biomass, soil organic matter or gaseous N emissions were not measured in the study. Variate    Description crop    “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” no3 leached    annual leaching rates of nitrate (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) don leached    annual leaching rates of don (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) N unleached    N unleached (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) in other sources are not studied % of N applied N lost to leaching    % of N applied N lost to leaching 6. Spreadsheet: annual DOC leachin_vol-wtd conc Description: Annual leaching rate (kiloGrams_Per_Hectare) and volume-weighted mean N concentrations (milliGrams_Per_Liter) of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the leachate samples collected from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2016. Data for DOC leached and volume-wtd mean DOC concentration shown in Figure 5a and Figure 5b, respectively. Note that in 2009 and 2010 crop-years, water samples were not available for DOC measurements.     Variate    Description crop    “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” crop-year    year of the observation replicate    each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 doc leached    annual leaching rates of nitrate (kiloGrams_Per_Hectare) vol-wtd doc conc.    volume-weighted mean doc concentration (milliGrams_Per_Liter) 7. Spreadsheet: growing season length Description: Growing season length (days) of corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2015. Date shown in Figure S2. Note that growing season is from the date of planting or emergence to the date of harvest (or leaf senescence in case of poplar).   Variate    Description crop    “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” year    year of the observation growing season length    growing season length (days) 8. Spreadsheet: correlation_nh4 VS no3 Description: Correlation of ammonium (nh4+) and nitrate (no3-) concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) in the leachate samples from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2013-2015. Data shown in Figure S3. Note that nh4+ concentration in the leachates was very low compared to no3- and don concentration and often undetectable in three crop-years (2013-2015) when measurements are available. Variate    Description crop    “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” date    date of the observation (mm/dd/yyyy) replicate    each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 nh4 conc    nh4 concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) no3 conc    no3 concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter)   9. Spreadsheet: correlations_don VS no3_doc VS don Description: Correlations of don and nitrate concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter); and doc (milliGrams_Per_Liter) and don concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) in the leachate samples of corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2013-2015. Data of correlation of don and nitrate concentrations shown in Figure S4 a and doc and don concentrations shown in Figure S4 b. 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