, Volume 213, Issue 3, pp 471-481

Effect of fire on recruitment of two dominant perennial grasses with different palatability from semi-arid grasslands of NW Patagonia (Argentina)

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Abstract

Fire is a non-selective disturbance that impacts equally plant species that could be selected differentially by livestock. Post-fire recruitment dynamics is an important ecological process that has been barely studied in Patagonian grass species. This work analyzes the effect of fire on seed germination, seedling growth, and survival of Pappostipa speciosa (ex Stipa speciosa) and Festuca pallescens, two dominant perennial grasses from NW Patagonia that differ in palatability. We hypothesized that physical and chemical factors derived from fire differentially affect recruitment of these species. We performed experiments in the field and under laboratory and greenhouse conditions to study the integral effect of fire and of related abiotic factors (i.e., smoke, heat, charcoal, and ash) on different phases of recruitment of both species. Experimental burning promoted P. speciosa emergence over time, but they did not affect F. pallescens total emergence. Experimental burning decreased P. speciosa seedling growth (i.e., few leaves and small size), but they did not affect seedling survival. Smoke from laboratory experiments stimulated P. speciosa germination. Exposing F. pallescens seeds to 120°C decreased germination and seedling growth. Fire might act as a selective force on recruitment of both species, as well as changing competitive interactions during postfire regeneration. The effect of fire on the recruitment dynamics of the studied species depended strongly on both intrinsic species characteristics and meteorological conditions.