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Fire and nitrogen effects on purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea) abundance in northern mixed-grass prairie old fields

Author(s): Dustin J. Strong, Lance T. Vermeire, Amy C. Ganguli
Year Published: 2013

Purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea Nutt. varieties) is a native grass capable of increasing on rangelands, forming near monocultures, and creating a stable state. Productive rangelands throughout the Great Plains and Intermountain West have experienced increases in purple threeawn abundance, reducing overall forage quality. Our objectives were to 1) reveal the effects of prescribed fire and nitrogen amendments on purple threeawn abundance and 2) assess nontarget plant response posttreatment. Season of fire (no fire, summer fire, fall fire) and nitrogen addition (0 kg N*ha-1, 46 kg N*ha-1, and 80 kg N*ha-1) were factorially arranged in a completely randomized design and applied to two similar sites in southeastern Montana. We evaluated fire and nitrogen effects on purple threeawn basal cover, relative composition, and current-year biomass one growing season postfire at two sites treated during different years. Spring weather following fire treatments was very different between years and subsequently impacted community response. Initial purple threeawn biomass at both sites was 1214±46 kg*ha-1 SEc. When postfire growing conditions were wet, current-year biomass of purple threeawn was reduced 90% and 73% with summer and fall fire, respectively. Under dry postfire growing conditions, purple threeawn current-year biomass was reduced 73% and 58% with summer and fall fire, respectively. Nitrogen additions had no effect on purple threeawn current-year biomass at either site. Current-year biomass of C3 perennial grass doubled with nitrogen additions and was not impacted by fire during a wet spring. Nitrogen additions and fire had no effect on C3 perennial grass current-year biomass following a dry spring. Prescribed fire appears to be a highly effective tool for reducing purple threeawn abundance on semiarid rangelands, with limited detrimental impacts to nontarget species.

Citation: Strong, Dustin J.; Vermeire, Lance T.; Ganguli, Amy C. 2013. Fire and nitrogen effects on purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea) abundance in northern mixed-grass prairie old fields. Rangeland Ecology & Management. 66(5): 553-560.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna, Juniper woodland, Lower montane/foothills/valley grassland
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 12019
FRAMES RCS number: 15688
Record updated: Feb 27, 2014