Fire and resource availability influence carbon and water relations of the C3 shrub Cornus drummondii in a mesic grassland

TitleFire and resource availability influence carbon and water relations of the C3 shrub Cornus drummondii in a mesic grassland
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsHeisler, JL, Knapp, AK, Briggs, JM
Conference NameProceedings of the 23rd Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference: Fire in Grassland and Shrubland Ecosystems
Pagination86 -93
Conference LocationTall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida, USA
Accession NumberKNZ001208

A dramatic increase in cover by woody vegetation has been observed in grasslands worldwide, due to independent and interacting global changes. In the C4-dominated mesic tallgrass prairie of North America, the most proximate factor driving this shift in growth-form dominance is fire exclusion. In 2001, we reintroduced annual fire into a C4-dominated mesic grassland where it had been excluded for 10 y, and evaluated changes in stem density and ecophysiology of an increasingly abundant C3 woody plant, roughleaf dogwood(Cornus drummondii). Our primary objective was to quantify the impacts of fire-induced aboveground mortality and resource constraints on the persistence of roughleaf dogwood in this ecosystem.

In both years of the study (2001–2002), burned shrubs suffered a complete loss of aboveground biomass due to top-kill from spring fire but persisted via resprouting. A considerable reduction in total growing-season precipitation in 2002, as compared to 2001, revealed that resprouts had lower mortality with reduced soil moisture, were less vulnerable to reductions in soil moisture availability, and maintained higher predawn xylem pressure potentials and rates of photosynthesis than did unburned shrubs. Additionally, enrich-ment of13Cleaf in burned shrubs in 2002 was indicative of greater water use efficiency of resprouting stems. During the drought that occurred in the second growing season, mortality of stems within unburned shrub islands increased and was nearly 9 times more than in burned shrub islands. Thus, resprouting shrubs—with their characteristics of reduced leaf tissue, taller stems, and greater stem densities—are efficient in rapidly reoccupying post-fire environments, even with the added stress of below-average precipitation during the growing season. The results of this study suggest that within this grassland, reintroduction of fire will not eliminate rough leaf dogwood in the short term because of its ability to resprout vigorously and persist, even under stressful moisture conditions. Given that North American grasslands are important both economically and ecologically, fire management plans should therefore emphasize frequent fire to prevent shrub establishment