Effects of Prescribed Fire on Shinnery Oak ( Quercus havardii) Plant Communities in Western Oklahoma

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Abstract

Changes in structural and compositional attributes of shinnery oak (Quercus havardii Rydb.) plant communities have occurred in the twentieth century. These changes may in part relate to altered fire regimes. Our objective was to document effects of prescribed fire in fall (October), winter (February), and spring (April) on plant composition. Three study sites were located in western Oklahoma; each contained 12, 60 × 30-m plots that were designated, within site, to be seasonally burned, annually burned, or left unburned. Growing season canopy cover for herbaceous and woody species was estimated in 1997–1998 (post-treatment). At one year post-fire, burning in any season reduced shrub cover, and spring burns reduced cover most. Winter and annual fires increased cover of rhizomatous tallgrasses, whereas burning in any season decreased little bluestem cover. Perennial forbs increased with fall and winter fire. Shrub stem density increased with fire in any season. Communities returned rapidly to pre-burn composition with increasing time since fire. Fire effects on herbaceous vegetation appear to be manifested through increases in bare ground and reduction of overstory shrub dominance. Prescribed fire can be used as a tool in restoration efforts to increase or maintain within and between community plant diversity. Our data suggest that some plant species may require or benefit from fire in specific seasons. Additional research is needed to determine the long-term effects of repeated fire over time.

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