The University of Arizona

Plains Prickly Pear Response to Fire: Effects of Fuel Load, Heat, Fire Weather, and Donor Site Soil

Lance T. Vermeire, Aaron D. Roth

Abstract


Plains prickly pear (Opuntia polyacantha Haw.) is common throughout the Great Plains and often becomes detrimental to agricultural production on noncultivated lands. We examined direct fire effects on plains prickly pear and mechanisms of tissue damage to facilitate development of fire prescriptions. Cladodes from clones on three soils (claypan, gravelly, silty) were subjected to fire with two weather conditions (moderate, severe) at four fuel loads (1 500, 3 000, 4 500, and 6 000 kg ? ha21) and a nonburned control. Fire was simulated with field-collected grass, and heat was measured using thermocouples at the soil surface and 8 cm above. Plants were maintained in a greenhouse and monitored for cladode mortality or growth. Cactus response to fire was examined in a field experiment with four nonburned and four summer-burned 0.75-ha plots. Some plants from each treatment sprouted new cladodes. Donor site soil and fire weather effects were limited to mass of new sprouts as they interacted with fuel load. Fire under any condition reduced cactus mass and survival. Reduction in cactus mass increased from 42% with 1 500 kg ? ha21 to 92% with fuel loads of 3 000 kg ? ha21 or more. Fuel load, duration of heat, maximum temperature, and degree-seconds were each positively related to mortality, but duration of heat greater than 60uC was the best predictor. Plant mortality was 15% in the field, but number of live cladodes was initially reduced 91%. After one year, number of live cladodes in burned plots was 43% of that in nonburned plots because burned plants sprouted more new cladodes than nonburned plants. Insect and browsing damage occurred on 83% of cladodes in burned plots and only 8% for nonburned plots. Lack of fire weather effects suggests prickly pear control can be achieved under broad fire prescriptions, given the amount of combustible fuel is adequate.


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