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Restoration Ecology





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Woodland restoration sites planted with Quercus lobata (valley oak) often have serious invasions of nonnative annual grasses and thistles. Although prescribed fire can effectively control these exotics, restoration managers may be reluctant to use fire if it causes substantial mortality of recently planted saplings. We studied the effects of prescribed fires on the survival and subsequent growth of 5- and 6-year-old valley oak saplings at a research field near Davis, California. One set of blocks was burned in summer 2003 at a time that would control yellow star thistle, a second set of blocks was burned in spring 2004 at a time that would control annual grasses, and a third set was left unburned. Very few oaks died as a result of either fire (3–4%). Although a large proportion was top-killed (66–72%), virtually all these were coppiced and most saplings over 300 cm tall escaped top-kill. Tree height, fire temperature, and understory biomass were all predictive of the severity of sapling response to fire. Although the mean sapling height was initially reduced by the fires, the growth rates of burned saplings significantly exceeded the growth rates of unburned control trees for 2 years following the fires. By 2–3 years after the fires, the mean height of spring- and summer-burned saplings was similar to that of the unburned control saplings. The presence of valley oak saplings does not appear to preclude the use of a single prescribed burn to control understory invasives, particularly if saplings are over 300 cm tall.


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