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Influence of wildfire severity on riparian plant community heterogeneity in an Idaho, USA wilderness

Author(s): Breeanne K. Jackson, S. Mazeika P. Sullivan
Year Published: 2009

Despite the increasing recognition of riparian zones as important ecotones that link terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and of fire as a critical natural disturbance, much remains unknown regarding the influence of fire on stream-riparian ecosystems. To further this understanding, we evaluated the effects of mixed severity wildfire on riparian plant community structure and composition in headwater streams of the Big Creek Watershed of the Frank Church 'River of No Return' Wilderness of central Idaho. Five years after a large stand-replacing fire, we conducted riparian vegetation surveys at sixteen reaches across a range of burn types. Non-metric Multidimensional Scaling (NMS) and Multi-Response Permutation Procedure (MRPP) analyses showed an overall shift in community composition and structure between vegetation at unburned and severely burned reaches. Although total plant cover was significantly less at severely burned areas, recovery of the deciduous understory was apparent. Severely burned reaches were characterized by a marked increase in cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum). Reaches that were exposed to low-severity fire were indistinguishable from unburned reaches relative to vegetation community composition and structure, pointing to a possible disturbance threshold that may need to be crossed in order to alter riparian plant communities.

Citation: Jackson, Breeanne K.; Sullivan, S.M.P. 2009. Influence of wildfire severity on riparian plant community heterogeneity in an Idaho, USA wilderness. Forest Ecology and Management. 259(1): 24-32.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - First Order, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation, Fire Regime
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna, Mountain shrubland/wooded draw, Riparian woodland/shrubland
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 11445
FRAMES RCS number: 9178
Record updated: May 10, 2018