Impact of unburned remnant sagebrush versus outplants on post-fire landscape rehabilitation - Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program
Document Type: Report
Author(s): Cara Applestein; T. Trevor Caughlin; Matthew J. Germino
Publication Year: 2020

Cataloging Information

  • active management
  • aerial seeding
  • Artemisia tridentata
  • passive management
  • post-fire regeneration
  • rangeland management
  • sagebrush
  • sagebrush steppe
  • seed dispersal
  • seedling recruitment
JFSP Project Number(s):
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: October 12, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 62081


Nearly half of the vast sagebrush steppe in the western United States has lost many or nearly all native plant species, largely due to the interaction of invasive species and increased wildfire. Re-establishing sagebrush, a keystone component of these ecosystems, has become a management focus in recent decades using aerial broadcast seeding or limited plantings. One promising avenue for improving the planning and assessment of post-fire seedings involves the spatial patchiness of burn patterns and in the recovery of sagebrush after fire. Unburned remnant or post-fire planted islands (or patches) of sagebrush could be valuable seed sources for species recovery in the surrounding burned areas. Information on how much spatial expansion of unburned remnant patches is expected over time could help in the planning of post-fire treatments. However, previous research has indicated that sagebrush seeds do not disperse far, which would imply that unburned or created patches do not contribute much to sagebrush reestablishment effects. Our objective was to determine whether remnant/unburned sagebrush patches contribute to sagebrush recovery in surrounding burned areas surrounding them. We quantified seed rain and seedling establishment in relation to patches of sagebrush that were either unburned remnant or had been planted in the first year or so after wildfire. We conducted a seed trapping experiment across 6 different wildfires during two winters to determine seed transport distances. We paired this with a seedling recruitment study on the Soda wildfire where we mapped distances between remnants and seedlings. We found that although a few seeds did travel much farther than previously recorded (maximum of26m), seed dispersal was highly variable across sites and patches, and only a small portion of seeds dispersed farther than a few meters from sagebrush patches. Our seedling recruitment assessment confirmed a limited contribution of remnants to seedling recruitment. Specifically, a microsite was only marginally more likely to have a sagebrush seedling even if there was >50 neighbors within a 40 m radius. There were no differences in the quantity of seeds dispersed from remnant versus actively managed patches. Overall, we found that isolated sagebrush patches are unlikely to significantly contribute to landscape regeneration of sagebrush on large fires and that aerial seeding is likely needed to overcome seed limitations. We did detect substantial variation in site-level sagebrush seed production among years, including one site that did not produce any seed in one year. Future studies addressing spatial and temporal variability of sagebrush seed production may help elucidate more about seed availability in burned areas.

Online Link(s):
Link to this document (543 KB; pdf)
Applestein, Cara V.; Caughlin, Trevor; Germino, Matthew J. 2020. Impact of unburned remnant sagebrush versus outplants on post-fire landscape rehabilitation - Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program. JFSP Project ID: 18-1-01-48. Boise State University. 19 p.