The University of Arizona

Vegetation dynamics following seasonal fires in mixed mesquite/acacia savannas.

M.K. Owens, J.W. Mackley, C.J. Carroll

Abstract


Fires were once a natural part of most savanna ecosystems, but lack of fine fuel and an active suppression policy have changed fire frequency and seasonality. Re-introducing fires to these systems has been touted as a cost-effective means to reduce woody cover while increasing herbaceous growth. We compared the effects of single, recurring annual, and biennial fires on the vegetation dynamics of a mixed mesquite/acacia (Prosopis/Acacia) savanna in southern Texas. Fires were conducted either during the growing season or the dormant season from 1991 through 1995. Some of the fire treatments were statistically unreplicated to permit a sufficient plot size for natural fire behavior. All plots showed a successional trajectory from short-grasses towards mid-grasses regardless of the fire season or frequency. The population size structure of perennial grasses was unaffected by the fires, with the basal area of most plants being less than 25 cm2. Forb diversity was high with over 100 different species identified in the experimental area. Forb composition, however, was unaffected by either the season or frequency of fire, but was related to the year of observation. Shrubs in this community typically sprout after disturbance, so little mortality was expected. The only observed mortality was of small shrubs or saplings (diameter < 3 cm) and of large trees which had woodrat (Neotoma micropus) nests at the base. Reintroducing growing season fires into mesquite/mixed acacia shrublands did not conclusively alter plant community composition. Burning during the growing season when environmental conditions were hotter and drier did not accelerate succession toward grass-dominated communities.

DOI:10.2458/azu_jrm_v55i5_owens


Keywords


fire intensity;Acacia;shrublands;Prosopis glandulosa;brush control;savannas;ecological succession;population structure;shortgrass prairie;prescribed burning;forbs;plant density;Texas;botanical composition;canopy;grasses

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