The University of Arizona

Effects of prescribed fire on sand shinnery oak communities.

W.C. Harrell, S.D. Fuhlendorf, T.G. Bidwell


Sand shinnery oak (Quercus havardii Rydb.) communities are shrublands extending from northern Texas and western Oklahoma southward into the Chihuahuan Desert. They are dominated by sand shinnery oak, a member of the white oak group. Structure and composition of sand shinnery oak communities in relation to natural disturbances, such as fire, have not been adequately investigated. The objectives of this study were to determine the influence of fire on shrub composition and vegetation structure of sand shinnery oak communities, and to determine the persistence of structural and compositional changes. Data were collected on Black Kettle National Grassland (BKNG) in western Oklahoma during the growing seasons of 1998 and 1999. Vegetation measurements included line transects, visual obstructions, heights, cone of vulnerabilities, shrub patch sizes, and shrub patch densities were used to estimate functional group canopy cover, shrub composition, and structure of sand shinnery oak communities. One growing season after fire, burned sand shinnery oak communities had significantly less shrub cover (P < 0.01) than unburned communities (38 vs. 51%). Height of vegetation was lower 1 and 2 growing seasons after fire (26 and 35 cm, respectively) (P < 0.05) than unburned communities (44 cm). Visual obstruction was lower the first (30%) and second (40%) year after fire (P < 0.01) compared to unburned communities (59%). Cone of vulnerability indicated significantly more open structure one growing season after fire. After 4 growing seasons, all measures of structure in burned communities were similar to those in unburned communities. We found no differences in composition of shrub species between burned and unburned sites (P = 0.55). Two fire events, 2 growing seasons apart, had less influence on vegetation structure than the initial fire. Sand shinnery oak communities appear to be highly resilient to periodic disturbance by fire. Prescribed fire is an effective tool for short-term alteration (< 3 growing seasons) of sand shinnery oak structure; however, rapid recovery following fire does not indicate any long-term changes in vegetation structure and composition.



brush control;fire ecology;fires;fire effects;Quercus havardii;prescribed burning;Oklahoma;plant communities;shrubs;range management;botanical composition;plant competition;canopy;plant height

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