Ecological - Second Order
Sagebrush steppe of North America is considered highly imperilled, in part owing to increased fire frequency. Sagebrush ecosystems support numerous species, and it is important to understand those factors that affect rates of post-fire sagebrush recovery. We explored recovery of Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) and basin big sagebrush (A. tridentata ssp. tridentata) communities following fire in the northern Columbia Basin (Washington, USA). We sampled plots across 16 fires that burned in big sagebrush communities from 5 to 28 years ago, and also sampled nearby unburned locations. Mixed-effects models demonstrated that density of large–mature big sagebrush plants and percentage cover of big sagebrush were higher with time since fire and in plots with more precipitation during the winter immediately following fire, but were lower when precipitation the next winter was higher than average, especially on soils with higher available water supply, and with greater post-fire mortality of mature big sagebrush plants. Bunchgrass cover 5 to 28 years after fire was predicted to be lower with higher cover of both shrubs and non-native herbaceous species, and only slightly higher with time. Post-fire recovery of big sagebrush in the northern Columbia Basin is a slow process that may require several decades on average, but faster recovery rates may occur under specific site and climate conditions.