Range recovery after fire has many implications for wildlife habitat. It was our objective to determine the effect of elk herbivory on recovery of mountain big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata vaseyana) – bluebunch wheatgrass (Agropyron spicatum) – Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis) winter range a decade after a 1988 wildfire on the Black-tailed Deer Plateau of the Northern Yellowstone Winter Range. Our hypotheses were that shrubs and herbaceous plants will recover from fire equally with or without elk herbivory. Measurements were taken in and out of exclosures established in 1957 and 1962 on environmentally paired, protected and browsed-grazed sites (n = 12). Mountain big sagebrush cover (n = 5) averaged 20 percent with protection and 9.7 percent where browsed (P ≤ 0.01). Mountain big sagebrush densities were not different (P ≤ 0.01). The sprouting shrubs, rubber rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus), green rabbitbrush (C. viscidiflorus), and gray horsebrush (Tetradymia canescens), (n = 4) responded the same as mountain big sagebrush with cover of 5.8 percent and two percent where protected and browsed, respectively (P ≤ 0.001), with no overall difference in density (P ≤ 0.47). Few cover differences existed between individual pairs of protected and unprotected sites for herbaceous plants (n = 12). Similarly no cover differences were found over all sites for total herbaceous species, grasses, or forbs. We rejected our hypotheses for shrubs as elk herbivory did negatively impact shrub recovery after wildfire. Reductions of shrub cover and productivity in mountain big sagebrush-grass communities from wildfire and intense herbivory have implications for many organisms. Keywords: Artemisia tridentata, elk, fire, sagebrush, Yellowstone
Wambolt, Carl L. and Rens, Reyer J.
"Elk and Fire Impacts on Mountain Big Sagebrush Range in Yellowstone,"
Natural Resources and Environmental Issues: Vol. 16
, Article 11.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/nrei/vol16/iss1/11