Grass canopy architecture influences temperature exposure at soil surface

Dylan Schwilk, Xiulin Gao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


There is increasing recognition that plant traits contribute to variations in fire behavior and fire regime. Diversity across species in litter flammability and canopy flammability has been documented in many woody plants. Grasses, however, are often considered homogeneous fuels in which any flammability differences across species are attributable to biomass differences alone and therefore are of less ecological interest, because biomass is hugely plastic. We examined the effect of grass canopy architecture on flammability across eight grass species in short grass steppe of New Mexico and Texas. To characterize grass canopy architecture, we measured biomass density and “biomass-height ratio” (the ratio of canopy biomass above 10 cm to that of biomass below 10 cm). Indoor flammability experiments were performed on air-dried individual plants. As expected, plant biomass influenced all flammability measures. However, biomass-height ratio had additional negative effect on temperature exposure at soil surface (accumulation of mean temperature >100C) in well-cured grasses, which is an important fire behavior metric predicting soil heating and meristem survival. This canopy architecture effect, however, needs further investigation to be isolated from biomass density due to correlation of these two traits. This result demonstrates the potential for species-specific variation in architecture to influence local fire effects in grasses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number35
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Canopy architecture
  • Grass fire ecological impact
  • Grass flammability
  • Meristem survival
  • Soil heating


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