Role of burning season on initial understory vegetation response to prescribed fire in a mixed conifer forest

Eric E. Knapp, Dylan W. Schwilk, Jeffrey M. Kane, Jon E. Keeley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

46 Scopus citations

Abstract

Although the majority of fires in the western United States historically occurred during the late summer or early fall when fuels were dry and plants were dormant or nearly so, early-season prescribed burns are often ignited when fuels are still moist and plants are actively growing. The purpose of this study was to determine if burn season influences postfire vegetation recovery. Replicated early-season burn, late-season burn, and unburned control units were established in a mixed conifer forest, and understory vegetation was evaluated before and after treatment. Vegetation generally recovered rapidly after prescribed burning. However, late-season burns resulted in a temporary but significant drop in cover and a decline in species richness at the 1 m 2 scale in the following year. For two of the several taxa that were negatively affected by burning, the reduction in frequency was greater after late-season than early-season burns. Early-season burns may have moderated the effect of fire by consuming less fuel and lessening the amount of soil heating. Our results suggest that, when burned under high fuel loading conditions, many plant species respond more strongly to differences in fire intensity and severity than to timing of the burn relative to stage of plant growth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-22
Number of pages12
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Volume37
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 2007

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