Interactions between fire and invasive plants in temperate grasslands of North America

TitleInteractions between fire and invasive plants in temperate grasslands of North America
Publication TypeConference Proceedings
Year of Publication2001
AuthorsGrace, JB, Smith, MD, Grace, SL, Collins, SL, Stohlgren, TJ
EditorGalley, K, Wilson, T
Pagination40 -65
PublisherTall Timbers Research Station
Conference LocationTallahassee, FL
Accession NumberKNZ007
Keywordsalien plants, exotic species, fire, Grasslands, invasive plants, prairie

A substantial number of invasive grasses, forbs and woody plants have invaded temperate grasslands in North America. Among the invading species are winter annuals, biennials, cool-season perennials, warm-season perennials, vines, shrubs, and trees. Many of these species have been deliberately introduced and widely planted; some are still used for range improvement, pastures, lawns, and as ornamentals, though many are listed as state or federal noxious weeds. Others have been greatly facilitated by widespread land disturbance. Historically, fire has been a major selective force in the evolution of temperate grasslands. Further, prescribed fire is commonly used as a method of ecological management for native grassland communities as well as in conjunction with restoration efforts. Within this context, it is important to understand how invasive species will interact with natural and prescribed fire regimes. In this paper, we consider what is known about how exotic species that invade temperate grasslands relate to fire. The primary issues addressed for each species are (1) Does fire appear to enhance colonization? (2) To what degree does fire affect the survival of plants? (3) Are plants that are burned able to regrow following fire and, if so, how rapidly can they recover? (4) How important is competition with native species to the response to fire? and (5) What effect does an invasive species have on the characteristics of the fire regime? For many species, results are preliminary, incomplete, or inconsistent among studies. For this reason, many of the conclusions drawn for individual species must be considered preliminary. Based on analyses of individual species, a conceptual framework is presented for considering how invasive plants may interact with fire when they invade an ecosystem. The major categories of influences are the native community, the fire regime, growth conditions for both invasive and native species, and influences that disturbances, human impacts, and landscape characteristics have had in the past and will have in the future. The examples considered in this paper provide support for a few, tentative generalizations. First, among our current worst invaders of temperate grasslands, adaptation to fire is quite variable. Some species are not well adapted to burning and can be easily eliminated; other species are better adapted but can still be eliminated if fire occurs during periods of particular vulnerability and/or at high frequency. There is a set of species that is extremely well adapted to fire and will not be eliminated through burning alone. Second, competitive interactions with native species play a crucial role in the success of nonnative invaders. In cases where differential burn responses between invasive and native species can be exploited, and adequate populations of native dominant species are present, fire can sometimes tip the competitive balance away from invasives. Third, there are a few invasive species that have exceptional attributes and for which there are no easy solutions. The ability of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) to enhance fire, the ability of Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) to suppress fire, and the ability of leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula) to resprout from repeated injury make the sespecies exceptional threats to native diversity. Finally, the available information for many invasive species is very incomplete, particularly with regard to how fire affects competitive interactions with the native community. There is much more we need to know if we are to consistently predict how invasive species will respond to fire and how burning can best be used to manage for natural diversity