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A Globally Rare Plant's Response to Fire

Photo of Rock skullcap flower. Ronald A. Polgar, USDA Forest Service Rock skullcap flower. Ronald A. Polgar, USDA Forest Service Snapshot : The resiliency of rock skullcap, a globally rare plant, was studied by a Forest Service scientist working with a National Forest System ecologist. They found that populations increased after a prescribed burn, but decreased to pre-burn levels after one more growing season. Total cover of other understory vegetation also increased after the burn and continued at higher levels for another year. Rock skullcap is resilient to fire, but frequent fire or more severe fires with greater increases in other understory vegetation could be detrimental to this species.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Huebner, Cynthia 
Research Location : West Virginia
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 610

Summary

Smooth rock skullcap is a globally rare plant, and it is categorized as rare or imperiled in West Virginia. A Forest Service scientist studied the effects of fire on the species. Two forested sites with populations of rock skullcap were selected, one in a burn area and the other in a non-burn area. Sites were sampled in early September 2008 and 2009 and in 2010 and 2011. The prescribed burn occurred in May of 2010. Bare ground cover increased and litter cover decreased in 2010 after the fire. Control and pre-burn sites did not differ significantly in terms of rock skullcap cover over the four years. The cover of rock skullcap increased significantly in 2010 compared to both pre-burn years, but decreased to pre-burn levels by 2011. Total cover of other understory vegetation increased significantly in 2010 and continued at 2010 levels in 2011. Rock skullcap has a temporary positive response to prescribed fire, but the increase in other ground vegetation reduces this effect. These data show that rock skullcap is resilient to infrequent fires, but frequent fire or more severe fires with greater canopy opening could be detrimental.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Kent Karriker, Ecologist, Monongahela National Forest