Our understanding of wildland fire effects on understory plant communities is limited because of a lack of repeated measurements before and after lightning-ignited fires. We examined vegetation responses to a surface fire in a ponderosa pine forest and a mixed-severity fire in a spruce-fir-aspen forest using before-after, control-impact (BACI) study designs. We hypothesized that the surface fire would stimulate plant species richness and minimally alter community composition, but that the mixed-severity fire would decrease richness and significantly alter composition. In ponderosa pine forests, total species richness and plant cover increased slightly because of annual and biennial forb and grass establishment in soils where duff layers were reduced by the surface fire. In spruce-fir-aspen forests, total species richness and plant cover were similar in burned and unburned forests after 2 years, although annual and biennial forbs and graminoids increased significantly in the burned area. Plant community composition was altered by both fires. Wildfires may indirectly influence the understory plant community through the mediating effects of overstory basal area and litter depth. Fire effects on plant species richness and cover were weaker than effects due to environmental factors. Managers should anticipate increases in both native and non-native ruderal species following landscape-scale fires.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Global and Planetary Change