, Volume 164, Issue 1, pp 35-41

Growth and elemental content of several sagebrush-steppe species in unburned and post-wildfire soil and plant effects on soil attributes

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Abstract

Fire is the principal means of stand renewal in big sagebrush-steppe communities of western North America. Plant growth following fire may be influenced by heat-induced changes in the nutrient status of the soil. Moreover, post-wildfire pioneer plant species may alter soil properties, and thereby, impact subsequent plant recruitment. Our study compared the growth and elemental content of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), squirreltail (Elymus elymoides), cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), and Indian ricegrass (Achnatherum hymenoides), grown under greenhouse conditions in post-wildfire and similar unburned soil. We also examined soil attributes following plant growth. Cheatgrass and squirreltail, grown in post-wildfire soil, had significantly (p≤0.05) greater aboveground mass than plants grown in unburned soil. As compared with unburned soil, post-wildfire soil engendered the following significant (p≤0.05) differences in leaf elemental content: 1) big sagebrush had higher levels of P and lower levels of Mn; 2) squirreltail accumulated more P and N; and 3) all grass species had higher SiO2 content. Following harvest of plants, post-wildfire soil generally contained significantly (p≤0.05) more KCl-extractable ortho-P, NH inf4 + , and SO 4 , than unburned soil. Plant growth in both burned and unburned soils fostered a significant (p≤0.05) increase in the bicarbonate-extractable pool of P as compared with unplanted controls. Soil Kjeldahl-N was significantly (p≤0.05) greater after plant growth in burned treatments as compared with the control. This study demonstrates that post-wildfire soil can have a stimulatory effect on plant growth for some species. Squirreltail deserves consideration as a post-wildfire revegetation species. Furthermore, pioneer plant growth following wildfires can attenuate soil properties and therefore influence plant succession.