Prescribed fire, soil, and plants: burn effects and interactions in the central Great Basin
Pinyon and juniper expansion into sagebrush ecosystems results in decreased cover and biomass of perennial grasses and forbs. We examine the effectiveness of spring prescribed fire on restoration of sagebrush ecosystems by documenting burn effects on soil nutrients, herbaceous aboveground biomass, and tissue nutrient concentrations. This study was conducted in a central Nevada woodland and included control and burn treatment plots sampled before and after a prescribed fire. Six native understory plant species (Crepis acuminata, Eriogonum umbellatum, Eriogonum elatum, Poa secunda secunda, Festuca idahoensis, and Lupinus argenteus) important for native sagebrush obligate foragers were chosen to represent the understory plant community. L. argenteus is also important for system nutrient cycling and nitrogen fixation. Plants were collected from three microsites (under tree canopy, under shrub canopy, and interspace) common in transitional woodlands during peak growth the summer before a spring prescribed burn and each of two summers following the burn. Soils were collected from corresponding locations at two depth intervals (0-8 and 8-52 cm) to determine the relationships between soil and plant nutrients following fire. Microsite affected soil nutrients but did not influence plant tissue concentrations with the exception of F. idahoensis. Burning resulted in increases in soil surface NH4+, NO3-, inorganic N, Ca2+, Mn2+, and Zn2+. Increases in NO3-, inorganic N, and Zn2+ were also observed in deeper horizons. Burning did not affect aboveground plant biomass or nutrient concentrations in the first year with the exception of F. idahoensis, which had increased tissue P. By the second year, all species had statistically significant responses to burning. The most common response was for increased aboveground plant weight and tissue N concentrations. Plant response to burning appeared to be related to the burn treatment and the soil variables surface K+, NO3-, and inorganic N.