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Keywords:

  • exotic plant;
  • fire effects;
  • fire season;
  • grassland;
  • herbicide;
  • invasive;
  • natural areas;
  • Montana;
  • Potentilla recta

Abstract Prescribed fire is often used to restore grassland systems to presettlement conditions; however, fire also has the potential to facilitate the invasion of exotic plants. Managers of wildlands and nature reserves must decide whether and how to apply prescribed burning to the best advantage in the face of this dilemma. Herbicide is also used to control exotic plants, but interactions between fire and herbicides have not been well studied. Potentilla recta is an exotic plant invading Dancing Prairie Preserve in northwest Montana. We used a complete factorial design with all combinations of spring burn, fall burn, no burn, picloram herbicide, and no herbicide to determine the effects of fire, season of burn, and their interaction with herbicide on the recruitment and population growth of P. recta over a 5-year period. Recruitment of P. recta was higher in burn plots compared with controls the first year after the fire, but this did not lead to significant population growth in subsequent years, possibly due to drier than normal conditions that occurred most years of the study. Effect of season of burn was variable among years but was higher in fall compared with spring burn plots across all years. Herbicide effectively eliminated P. recta from sample plots for 3–5 years. By the end of the study density of P. recta was greater in herbicide plots that were burned than those that were not. Results suggest that prescribed fire will enhance germination of P. recta, but this will not always lead to increased population growth. Prescribed fire may reduce the long-term efficacy of herbicide applied to control P. recta and will be most beneficial at Dancing Prairie when conducted in the spring rather than the fall. Results of prescribed fire on exotic plant invasions in semiarid environments will be difficult to predict because they are strongly dependent on stochastic climatic events.