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Title: Understory vegetation response to thinning and burning restoration treatments in dry conifer forests of the eastern Cascades, USA

Author: Dodson, Erich Kyle; Peterson, David W.; Harrod, Richy J.;

Date: 2008

Source: Forest Ecology and Management. 255: 3130-3140

Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Description: Restoration/fuel reduction treatments are being widely used in fire-prone forests to modify stand structure, reduce risks of severe wildfire, and increase ecosystem resilience to natural disturbances. These treatments are designed to manipulate stand structure and fuels, but may also affect understory vegetation and biodiversity. In this study, we describe prescribed fire and thinning treatment effects on understory vegetation species richness, cover, and species composition in dry coniferous forests of central Washington State, U.S.A. We applied thinning and prescribed fire treatments in factorial design to 12 large (10 ha) management units, and surveyed understory vegetation before treatment and during the second growing season after treatment completion. Many understory vegetation traits changed significantly during the treatment period, regardless of treatment applied, and changes were often proportional to pretreatment condition. In general, cover declined and species richness increased during the treatment period. Thinning followed by prescribed fire increased species richness, particularly in areas where species richness was low initially. Thinning alone had a similar, but lesser effect. Forb richness was increased by thinning, and shrub richness was increased by the combined thin/burn treatment, but graminoid richness was unaffected. Exotic cover and richness also increased in the combined thin/burn treatment, although they constituted only a very small portion of the total understory. Understory plant cover was not affected by treatments, but did decline from pre- to posttreatment sampling, with cover losses highest in areas where cover was high prior to treatment. Forb cover increased with thinning followed by burning where forb cover was low initially. Burning reduced graminoid cover with or without thinning. Species composition varied within and among treatment units, but was not strongly or consistently affected by treatments. Our study shows that thinning and burning treatments had mostly neutral to beneficial effects on understory vegetation, with only minor increases in exotic species. However, the pretreatment condition had strong effects on understory dynamics, and also modified some responses to treatments. The maximum benefit of restoration treatments appears to be where understory richness is low prior to treatment, suggesting restoration efforts might be focused on these areas.

Keywords: Restoration, Pinus ponderosa, ponderosa pine, exotic species, thinning, burning, species richness

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Dodson, Erich Kyle; Peterson, David W.; Harrod, Richy J. 2008. Understory vegetation response to thinning and burning restoration treatments in dry conifer forests of the eastern Cascades, USA. Forest Ecology and Management. 255: 3130-3140.


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