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Long-term vegetation response following post-fire straw mulching

Author(s): Jonathan D. Bontrager, Penelope Morgan, Andrew T. Hudak, Peter R. Robichaud
Year Published: 2019

Background: Straw mulching is one of the most common treatments applied immediately post fire to reduce soil erosion potential and mitigate post-fire effects on water quality, downstream property, and infrastructure, but little is known about the long-term effects on vegetation response. We sampled six fires that were mulched between 9 and 13 years ago in western US dry conifer forests. We compared understory plant species diversity and abundance, tree seedling density and height by species, and fractional ground cover on mulched and unmulched paired plots.

Results: Mulch did not influence understory plant diversity, species richness, or fractional ground cover. However, on mulched plots, tree seedlings grew taller faster, especially on north-facing aspects, and there was slightly more graminoid cover. Mulch did not affect overall tree seedling density, but there were fewer ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson) and more Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii [Mirb.] Franco) in mulched areas, especially on south-facing slopes.

Conclusions: Managers will be able to weigh the long-term implications of mulching against the short-term reductions in soil erosion potential. While there are many concerns about vegetation suppression and exotic species introduction from using straw mulch, our study suggests that the long-term effects are subtle 9 to 13 years after post-fire mulching.

Citation: Bontrager, Jonathan D.; Morgan, Penelope; Hudak, Andrew T.; Robichaud, Peter R. 2019. Long-term vegetation response following post-fire straw mulching. Fire Ecology 15:22. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-019-0037-9
Topic(s): Post-fire Management, Post-fire Rehabilitation, Erosion Control
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 19710
FRAMES RCS number: 58202
Record updated: Jul 15, 2019