Date of this Version
H.D. Starns et al. Journal of Environmental Management 303 (2022) 114141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.114141
Rangelands worldwide have experienced significant shifts from grass-dominated to woody-plant dominated states over the past century. In North America, these shifts are largely driven by overgrazing and landscape-scale fire suppression. Such shifts reduce productivity for livestock, can have broad-scale impacts to biodiversity, and are often difficult to reverse. Restoring grass dominance often involves restoring fire as an ecological process. However, many resprouting woody plants persist following disturbance, including fire, by resprouting from protected buds, rendering fire ineffective for reducing resprouting woody plant density. Recent research has shown that extreme fire (high-energy fires during periods of water stress) may reduce resprouting capacity. This previous research did not examine whether high-energy fires alone would be sufficient to cause mortality. We created an experimental framework for assessing the “buds-protection-resources” hypothesis of resprouting persistence under different fire energies. In July–August 2018 we exposed 48 individuals of a dominant resprouting woody plant in the region, honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), to two levels of fire energy (high and low) and root crown exposure (exposed vs unexposed) and evaluated resprouting capacity. We censused basal and epicormic resprouts for two years following treatment. Water stress was moderate for several months leading up to fires but low in subsequent years. Epicormic and basal buds were somewhat protected from lowand high-energy fire. However, epicormic buds were protected in very few mesquites subjected to high-energy fires. High-energy fires decreased survival, caused loss of apical dominance, and left residual dead stems, which may increase chances of mortality from future fires. Basal resprout numbers were reduced by high-energy fires, which may have additional implications for long-term mesquite survival. While the buds, protection, and resources components of resprouter persistence all played a role in resprouting, high-energy fire decreased mesquite survival and reduced resprouting. This suggests that high-energy fires affect persistence mechanisms to different extents than low-energy fires. In addition, high-energy fires during normal rainfall can have negative impacts on resprouting capacity; water stress is not a necessary precursor to honey mesquite mortality from highenergy fire.