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Keywords:

  • burning;
  • grassland;
  • litter;
  • Oregon;
  • seedling

Abstract

Prescribed burning is an important tool for managing and restoring prairies and other ecosystems. One effect of fire is plant litter removal, which can influence seedling establishment. Four experimental treatments (burned, clipped and raked to remove litter, burned with litter reapplied, and unmanipulated) were applied to 2 × 2.5–m plots in three western Oregon, United States, upland prairies to determine how burning affects seedling establishment. Seeds of common exotic and native prairie species were sowed into the experimental plots after treatments. Seedlings were censused the following spring. The experiment was repeated on each of the three sites, representing three common types of prairie vegetation: an Annual Exotic Grass site, a Perennial Exotic Grass site, and a Native Bunchgrass site. In both the Annual Exotic Grass and the Perennial Exotic Grass sites, burning significantly improved native, but not exotic, seedling establishment over those on unburned plots. Litter removal was a significant component of this burn effect, particularly on the Perennial Exotic Grass site. In these winter-moist systems, the net effect of litter is to inhibit seedling establishment. Burning treatments on the Native Bunchgrass site significantly increased seedling establishment only of short-lived exotic species. These results suggest that in prairie ecosystems similar to the Annual and Perennial Exotic Grass sites, prescribed burning followed by sowing native seeds can be an effective restoration technique. Burning alone or sowing alone would be counter-productive, in the first case because increased establishment would come from exotic species and in the second case because establishment rates are low in unburned plots.