Responses of Prairie Vegetation to Fire, Herbicide, and Invasive Species Legacy

We evaluate prairie plant community variation in a matrix of restoration treatments in the south Puget Lowland, WA. Native and exotic plant community diversity and composition were measured across areas that differed in burning history and grass-specific herbicide application, having received one to several treatments since 2002. All plots were also variable in historical proximity to a key invasive exotic species (Cytisus scoparius – Scotch broom), a nitrogen-fixing shrub. Three trends were readily apparent from our data: 1) total plant species richness was higher following a prescribed fire. This trend was associated with increases in both native and exotic plants; 2) areas treated with a grass-specific herbicide generally had lower exotic and higher native cover; and 3) using a combination of GIS modeling and community analysis, we found that historical proximity to C. scoparius across all treatment areas was associated with suppressed native species richness. In fact, the magnitude of the effect of historical proximity to C. scoparius was as large as the differences among fire treatment areas. These data suggest that restoration treatments such as fire and herbicide application affect species richness and diversity in prairies, but the changes were neither rapid nor large. Further, exotic species legacies may interact with treatment effects to variably alter restoration outcomes.


For more articles from the Spring 2011 issue of Northwest Science please refer to the link below:

The Future of Restoration and Management of Prairie-Oak Ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest