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Research Highlights

Individual Highlight

Climate Regulates Mountain big Sagebrush Recovery After Fire

Photo of View of vegetative recovery five years after fire on a Colorado Plateau site includes scattered mountain big sagebrush plants that grew from seeds that survived the fire. These young plants are just large enough to begin producing seeds. Plant density on this site is sufficient to support a prediction of full sagebrush recovery in 25-35 years after the fire. Stanley G Kitchen, USDA Forest ServiceView of vegetative recovery five years after fire on a Colorado Plateau site includes scattered mountain big sagebrush plants that grew from seeds that survived the fire. These young plants are just large enough to begin producing seeds. Plant density on this site is sufficient to support a prediction of full sagebrush recovery in 25-35 years after the fire. Stanley G Kitchen, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Wildland fire plays a key role in shaping natural communities on semi-arid landscapes around the world. The composition and structure of plant communities are often tied to specific patterns of fire frequency and size. Knowledge of fire characteristics compatible with sagebrush-dominated communities of the U.S. Intermountain West is critical for maintaining habitat crucial for sagebrush-dependent wildlife, such as greater sage grouse.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Kitchen, Stanley G.  
Research Location : Shrub Sciences Laboratory, Provo, UT; Eastern Great Basin, Colorado Plateau and Utah Highlands
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 704

Summary

Big sagebrush plants are killed easily by fire, so post-fire recovery must be from seeds that either survive fire or are spread from unburned areas. Recovery rate depends on how fast new sagebrush plants are able to establish themselves after a fire. In recent studies, scientists investigated natural recovery of mountain big sagebrush for 36 fires in the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau ecoregions. Time-since-fire varied from 1 to 36 years. Sagebrush recovery rate in burned areas when compared to paired unburned areas was highly variable with full recovery estimated to take from 25 to 75-plus years. Recovery rate was most influenced by the amount of winter-spring precipitation the year after fire, suggesting the importance of sufficient soil moisture for seedling growth and establishment during the first growing season. Research results also suggest that the opportunity for initial post-fire regeneration of mountain big sagebrush is short-lived due to a short-lived soil seed bank; and, if missed, the time needed for big sagebrush recovery may be extended by several decades. Thus, conditions that result in short fire-free intervals or more frequent drought are likely to be less compatible with big sagebrush dominance, increasing risk for wildlife species dependent on this habitat type including the greater sage grouse.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Perter J Weisberg and Zachary J Nelson, University of Nevada, Reno, Steven L Petersen, Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah)