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Initial Effects of Prescribed Fire on Morphology, Abundance, and Phenology of Forbs in Big Sagebrush Communities in Southeastern Oregon


Present address and correspondence: USDA Forest Service, 409 Clayton St., Plains, MT 59859. E-mail:


Abstract Historic fire return intervals in Artemesia tridentata (big sagebrush) ecosystems have been altered by livestock grazing, fire suppression, and other land management techniques resulting in ecological changes in these areas. Increases in abundance of woody vegetation may be causing declines in native herbaceous understory species. We examined the effects of prescribed fire on the morphology, abundance, and phenology of nine abundant forb (herbaceous dicot) species used selectively by Centrocercus urophasianus (Sage Grouse). In September 1997 prescribed fire was applied to four of eight randomly assigned 400-ha A.t. wyomingensis (Wyoming big sagebrush) study plots at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Oregon. Livestock had not grazed experimental plots since 1991. Burning caused morphological changes such as significantly greater numbers of racemes and flowers per raceme in Astragalus malachus (shaggy milkvetch-Legumoideae) (9 in burn vs. 6 in control; 23 in burn vs. 21 in control, respectively). Also, prescribed burning caused greater numbers of flowers in Phlox gracilis (microsteris-Polemoniaceae) (57 vs. 13), greater numbers of umbels and umbelletts in Lomatium nevadense (Nevada desert parsley-Umbellifereae) (4 vs. 2 and 59 vs. 31, respectively), greater numbers of flower heads in Crepis modocensis (Modoc hawksbeard-Compositae) (32 vs. 21), and greater number of flowers/cm3 in Phlox longifolia (longleaf phlox-Polemoniaceae) (0.11 vs. 0.06). Crown volume of Crepis modocensis (7,085 vs. 4,179 cm3) and Astragalus malachus (2,854 vs. 1,761 cm3) plants was greater in burned plots than control plots. However, burning resulted in a smaller crown area of Antennaria dimorpha (low pussytoes-Compositae) (20 vs. 37 cm2). Phenology and time of flowering were also affected by fire. The period of active growth for each species was extended later into the summer in burned plots ( p < 0.01). In addition, Crepis modocensis and Lomatium nevadense flowered 12 to 14 days earlier in burned plots. Fire had no effect on frequency, density, and relative abundance of seven of the nine studied species. Fire reduced the frequency and relative abundance of A. dimorpha and Phlox longifolia and reduced the density of A. dimorpha.