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Dormant-Season Fire Inhibits Sixweeks Fescue and Enhances Forage Production in Shortgrass Steppe

Author(s): N. A. Dufek, David J. Augustine, Dana M. Blumenthal, Julie A. Kray, Justin D. Derner
Year Published: 2018

Semiarid rangelands experience substantial interannual variability in precipitation, which can determine the relative abundance of species in any given year and influence the way that fire affects plant community composition and productivity. Long-term studies are needed to examine potential interactions between fluctuating community composition and the role of fire in these ecosystems. Here, we report on an 11-year (2006 to 2016) study of annual and triennial dormant-season prescribed fires in the semiarid shortgrass steppe of Colorado, USA. Productivity of the dominant C4 shortgrasses was not reduced by dormant-season burns in any year. The C3 annual grass, sixweeks fescue (Vulpia octoflora [Walter] Rydb.) was rare during the first 7 years (2006 to 2012) but, following drought in 2012, increased dramatically in unburned plots (2013 to 2016). Both spring and autumn annual burns reduced fescue biomass during 2014 to 2016 by an average of 87 %. Autumn triennial burns prior to the 2013 and 2016 growing seasons similarly reduced fescue (86 %), while spring tri-ennial burns implemented prior to the 2012 and 2015 growing seasons did not. Results indicate that burning during fescue establishment can prevent proliferation, but burning two years later when fescue had reached peak abundance was ineffective. All three burn treatments that suppressed fescue subsequently enhanced C4 grass production. We suggest that rangeland managers be aware of the potential for sixweeks fescue germination and establishment during warm, wet winters that follow drought years, and consider the use of dormant- season prescribed fire to adaptively reduce negative impacts on forage production.

Citation: Dufek, Nickolas A.; Augustine, David J.; Blumenthal, Dana M.; Kray, Julie A.; Derner, Justin D. 2018. Dormant-season fire inhibits sixweeks fescue and enhances forage production in shortgrass steppe. Fire Ecology 14(1):33-49. doi: 10.4996/fireecology.140132048
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Ecosystem Changes, Composition, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 17672
FRAMES RCS number: 55917
Record updated: Jun 4, 2018