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Rapid assessment of postfire plant invasions in coniferous forests of the western United States

Author(s): Jonathan P. Freeman, Thomas J. Stohlgren, Molly E. Hunter, Philip N. Omi, Erik J. Martinson, Geneva W. Chong, Cynthia S. Brown
Year Published: 2007

Fire is a natural part of most forest ecosystems in the western United States, but its effects on nonnative plant invasion have only recently been studied. Also, forest managers are engaging in fuel reduction projects to lessen fire severity, often without considering potential negative ecological consequences such as nonnative plant species introductions. Increased availability of light, nutrients, and bare ground have all been associated with high-severity fires and fuel treatments and are known to aid in the establishment of nonnative plant species. We use vegetation and environmental data collected after wildfires at seven sites in coniferous forests in the western United States to study responses of nonnative plants to wildfire. We compared burned vs. unburned plots and plots treated with mechanical thinning and/or prescribed burning vs. untreated plots for nonnative plant species richness and cover and used correlation analyses to infer the effect of abiotic site conditions on invasibility. Wildfire was responsible for significant increases in nonnative species richness and cover, and a significant decrease in native cover. Mechanical thinning and prescribed fire fuel treatments were associated with significant changes in plant species composition at some sites. Treatment effects across sites were minimal and inconclusive due to significant site and site x treatment interaction effects caused by variation between sites including differences in treatment and fire severities and initial conditions (e.g., nonnative species sources). We used canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) to determine what combinations of environmental variables best explained patterns of nonnative plant species richness and cover. Variables related to fire severity, soil nutrients, and elevation explained most of the variation in species composition. Nonnative species were generally associated with sites with higher fire severity, elevation, percentage of bare ground, and lower soil nutrient levels and lower canopy cover. Early assessments of postfire stand conditions can guide rapid responses to nonnative plant invasions.

Citation: Freeman, Jonathan P.; Stohlgren, Thomas J.; Hunter, Molly E.; Omi, Philip N.; Martinson, Erik J.; Chong, Geneva W.; Brown, Cynthia S. 2007. Rapid assessment of postfire plant invasions in coniferous forests of the western United States. Ecological Applications 17(6):1656-1665.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Invasive Species, Vegetation, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Mechanical treatments, Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18957
FRAMES RCS number: 20065
TTRS (Tall Timbers Research Station) Number: 22010
Record updated: Feb 28, 2019