SPECIES: Danthonia spicata
Covington, Daniel. 2000. Danthonia spicata. In: Fire Effects Information System, [Online]. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory (Producer). Available: http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/ .
No special status
Poverty oatgrass inhabits much of the United States. It is distributed from British Columbia east to Newfoundland and south to Florida, New Mexico, and Mexico [11,20,21,25,57]. The Natural Resources Conservation Service provides a map of poverty oatgrass' distribution in the United States (http://plants.usda.gov/plants/cgi_bin/topics.cgi).
FRES10 White-red-jack pine
FRES12 Longleaf-slash pine
FRES13 Loblolly-shortleaf pine
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES38 Plains grasslands
|small nongame birds||poor|
|upland game birds||poor|
Compared to graminoid associates, nutritional value of poverty oatgrass is low. Ungulate use is generally restricted to early season when protein value is optimal .
Given the low-growing stature of poverty oatgrass, cover value for large mammals is negligible. However, Dittberner and Olson  found that poverty oatgrass provides fair cover value for small mammals, small nongame birds, and upland game birds in Wyoming.
Poverty oatgrass inhabits sites of varying nutrient and moisture content. However, special interest is given to its ability to establish and succeed on sites of particularly poor nutrient and moisture regimes, such as roadsides . It protects soil from erosion and excessive nutrient leaching, and is frost-heave resistant. Poverty oatgrass also has the ability to inhabit acidic soils (pH 4.5-4.7) . Most sources cite poverty oatgrass as a common secondary successor and valuable erosion controller of fire-disturbed areas and clearcuts in the eastern United States .
Poverty oatgrass serves as an excellent indicator of low-fertility agricultural and pasture lands. Its presence and increase in the absence of fire may imply declining soil conditions and overuse [11,22,52]. Active grazing usually favors an increase in the abundance of poverty oatgrass. This is attributed to the almost basal location of cleistogamous flowers, which are generally out of reach and not removed by cattle grazing .
The herbicide hexazinone has proven effective in reducing competition imposed by poverty oatgrass and bluegrasses in lowbush blueberry fields in Michigan .
Poverty oatgrass is a cool-season, native, perennial bunchgrass. Roots are fibrous without rhizomes or stolons, and most of the foliage occurs as a crowed basal clump of leaves. Curved or twisted leaves are 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) long and persist with age. The inflorescence is a constricted panicle containing 2 to 13 spikelets. Both male and female flower parts appear on each individual. Florets
that cross-fertilize (chasmogamous) are located on the aerial panicle and contain more pollen grains than the unopened,
self-fertilized florets (cleistogamous) that are located inside 1 or more of the leaf
sheaths throughout their development. Floret lemmas have twisted awns with long, stiff hairs, both of which aid in dispersal [11,22].
Research in a pine-hardwood forest in Michigan found that poverty oatgrass has a population half-life of 2.2 years .
Poverty oatgrass reproduces by seed and by tillering . Its production of cleistogamous flowers and chasmogamous flowers makes this species highly self-compatible and often dominant in favorable growing conditions. Chasmogamous florets are
more abundant than self-fertile florets. Cleistogamous florets occur most frequently in plants growing on disturbed, grazed, wooded, and mountainous areas . The presence of both flower types in varying proportions yields 2 different reproductive strategies. However, seed production through self-pollination in closed florets is most common .
While conducting a study on poverty oatgrass reproduction, Clay  observed that healthy plants set seed in all 200 of observed florets of both flower types. Pronounced twisted and pubescent awns aid in seed dispersal. Maximum germination of seeds was investigated by Toole . Seeds taken from the Shenandoah National Forest in Virginia germinated best when temperatures were alternated between room temperature and 95 degrees Fahrenheit (35 oC). A 71% sulfuric acid treatment weakened the seed coat, facilitating germination. Prechilling the seeds at 37 degrees Fahrenheit (3 oC) before room temperature germination with a potassium nitrate treatment was also effective.
Seeds of poverty oatgrass are highly dormant but germinate readily on exposed mineral soil. Even if the aboveground population no longer exists, seeds may remain in soil for decades before a disturbance such as fire initiates another population .
Poverty oatgrass most commonly inhabits low fertility, sandy or rocky, well-drained soils of old fields, pastures, roadsides, and woodland margins characterized by low soil moisture [11,14,15,22,28]. Poverty oatgrass also inhabits clearcuts, burns, and trampled ground of flat and mountainous areas throughout much of the eastern United States . Poverty oatgrass tends to inhabit shallow A horizons overlying substrates such as limestone, marble rock, sandstone, granite, siltstone, clay, and chert [7,23,26,36].
Poverty oatgrass is a secondary successor of burned and/or cut sites, old fields, and old pastureland [14,15,19,38,47]. It is a common pioneer on northeastern coastal sandplains and old domestic sheep pastures . Its ability to colonize after disturbance is attributed to long periods of seed dormancy . Optimally growing in high light, conditions are most favorable for poverty oatgrass during early years of succession . As competition for light and other resources increases, poverty oatgrass populations decrease . Individuals appearing in mid-late successional stages of natural reforestation allocate most resources to reproductive efforts in order to continue the population .
Some barren and alvar ecosystems are kept in
early succession by repeated fires [7,46]. Smith and Sparling  found poverty oatgrass
was a persistent member of jack pine (Pinus banksiana) barrens maintained by frequent fire. A prairie and savanna restoration study conducted in central Wisconsin showed marked increases in poverty oatgrass populations with increased prescribed burning . However, it should be noted that some grasslands dominated by poverty oatgrass might be
drought-dependent, not fire-dependent .
In the southern and eastern United States, poverty oatgrass begins active growth in early spring. Flowers develop and bloom from late spring to early June. Seed maturation and shattering closely follow pollination. Poverty oatgrass is commonly dormant during the hot summer months. A period of vegetative growth may occur when temperatures decrease in early fall. In Canada, seasonal development occurs a few weeks later as a result of temperature and photoperiod restrictions [11,28].
Poverty oatgrass has adapted to fire by tillering and establishing from seed after
Fire regimes for plant communities and ecosystems in which poverty oatgrass occurs are summarized below. For further information regarding fire regimes and fire ecology of communities and ecosystems where poverty oatgrass is found, see the "Fire Ecology and Adaptations" section of the FEIS summary for the plant community or ecosystem dominants listed below.
|Community or Ecosystem||Dominant Species||Fire Return Interval Range in Years|
|sugar maple||A. saccharum||> 1000|
|sugar maple-basswood||A. s.-Tilia americana||> 1000 |
|bluestem prairie||Andropogon gerardii var. gerardii-Schizachyrium scoparium||< 10 [5,29]|
|Nebraska sandhills prairie||A. g. var. paucipilus-Schizachyrium scoparium||< 10|
|plains grasslands||Bouteloua spp.||< 35|
|blue grama-buffalo grass||B. gracilis-Buchloe dactyloides||< 35|
|sugarberry-America elm-green ash||Celtis laevigata-Ulmus americana-Fraxinus pennsylvanica||< 35 to 200|
|beech-sugar maple||Fagus spp.-Acer saccharum||> 1000|
|juniper-oak savanna||Juniperus ashei-Quercus virginiana||< 35|
|yellow-poplar||Liriodendron tulipifera||< 35|
|wheatgrass plains grasslands||Pascopyrum smithii||< 35|
|Great Lakes spruce-fir||Picea-Abies spp.||35 to > 200|
|northeastern spruce-fir||Picea-Abies spp.||35-200|
|southeastern spruce-fir||Picea-Abies spp.||35 to > 200 |
|Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine*||Pinus contorta var. latifolia||25-300+ [1,39]|
|shortleaf pine||P. echinata||2-15|
|shortleaf pine-oak||P. e.-Quercus spp.||< 10|
|longleaf pine-scrub oak||P. palustris-Quercus spp.||6-10 |
|red pine (Great Lakes region)||P. resinosa||10-200 (10)** [5,17]|
|red-white-jack pine*||P. r.-P. strobus-P. banksiana||10-300 |
|pitch pine||P. rigida||6-25 [6,24]|
|eastern white pine||P. strobus||35-200|
|eastern white pine-eastern hemlock||P. s.-Tsuga canadensis||35-200|
|eastern white pine-northern red oak-red maple||P. s.-Quercus rubra-Acer rubrum||35-200|
|loblolly-shortleaf pine||P. taeda-P.echinata||10 to < 35|
|Virginia pine-oak||P.virginiana-Quercus spp.||10 to < 35|
|aspen-birch||Populus tremuloides-Betula papyrifera||35-200 |
|mountain grasslands||Pseudoroegneria spicata||3-40 (10)** |
|oak-hickory||Quercus-Carya spp.||< 35|
|northeastern oak-pine||Quercus-Pinus spp.||10 to < 35|
|southeastern oak-pine||Quercus-Pinus spp.||< 10|
|white oak-black oak-northern red oak||Q. alba-Q. velutina-Q. rubra||< 35|
|chestnut oak||Q. prinus||3-8|
|northern red oak||Q. rubra||10 to < 35|
|post oak-blackjack oak||Q. stellata-Q. marilandica||< 10|
|black oak||Q. velutina||< 35|
|little bluestem-grama prairie||Schizachyrium scoparium-Bouteloua spp.||< 35|
|eastern hemlock-yellow birch||Tsuga canadensis-Betula alleghaniensis||> 200|
|elm-ash-cottonwood||Ulmus-Fraxinus-Populus spp.||< 35 to 200 |
Ground residual colonizer (on-site, initial community)
Fire usually top-kills poverty oatgrass [32,34,42].
While studying the population dynamics of poverty oatgrass during secondary succession of a pine-hardwood forest in northern lower Michigan, Scheiner  found that fire's predominant effect was mortality. Seventy-five percent of individuals had died in an experimental plot burned the previous summer.
Most barrens, forested, prairie, and flatwood ecosystems show a marked increase in
poverty oatgrass populations the growing season following fire [32,34,41,42,49,55,56].
Open-grown poverty oatgrass plants may produce 4.5 times more vegetative culms and 1.5 times more flowering culms than those growing in
more successionally advanced communities. During the 1st few growing seasons following fire, poverty oatgrass allocates its resources to vegetative growth over reproductive effort. As the canopy of more advanced successional stages reduces light reaching the herbaceous layer, this trend reverses. In general, environmental changes imposed by successional trends contribute to a drastic population reduction 20 to 30 years following fire .
Despite the overwhelming evidence supporting fire's contribution to poverty oatgrass establishment and success, some grassland ecosystems show a decrease in poverty oatgrass following frequent disturbance [33,50]. While observing floristic trends of annually burned, post-agricultural little bluestem fields, Nierling and Dreyer  noticed a drastic decrease in poverty oatgrass. Similarly, prescribed burns in goldenrod-poverty oatgrass communities resulted in a 26% decrease of poverty oatgrass frequency, while unburned fields supported contiguous poverty oatgrass plants. In this particular community type, fire temporarily promoted forb dominance followed by a slow emergence of poverty oatgrass .
Poverty oatgrass is usually associated with frequent burning. Its population maintenance in open woodland and woodland-grassland margins is certainly dependent upon fire [34,49,55]. Conversely, successional advancement in the absence of fire may result in very small populations of poverty oatgrass.
No published sources provide fuel management, fire behavior, or fire use planning information concerning poverty oatgrass.
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