Burning Influences on Wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) Restoration Plantings: Natural Seedling Recruitment and Survival



Regeneration and expansion of Aristida beyrichiana and Aristida stricta (wiregrass) populations in remaining fire-maintained Pinus palustris (longleaf pine) stands of the southeastern United States has become an objective of land managers. Although growing-season fire is required for successful wiregrass seed production, studies examining naturally occurring wiregrass seedling dynamics are few. This study investigates how seedling survivorship is affected by season of burn, seedling size, time since germination, and proximity to adult plants. Restoration at this research site was begun in 1992 with the planting of containerized longleaf pine and wiregrass seedlings. Study plots were established in November 1997 after a growing-season prescribed fire (June 1996) that resulted in successful seed production and seedling recruitment. Burn treatment plots included (1) no burn (control), (2) fire in the dormant season of the first year after germination (March 1998), (3) fire in the growing season of the first year after germination (August 1998), and (4) fire in the growing season of the second year after germination (July 1999). Seedling mortality increased with growing season burning and close proximity to planted adults. Natural seedling recruitment continued into the second year after initial seed-drop in all plots, which verifies that wiregrass seed banking occurs for a minimum of 2 years after seed drop. Where wiregrass management objectives include population expansion, seedling recruits should be allowed 1 to 2 years post-germination without growing season fire for successful establishment.