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Fire Ecology, 2009
Volume 5, Issue 1

Do Plant Invasions Change the Effects of Fire on Animals?
Authors: Robert J. Steidl and Andrea R. Litt
Pages: 56-66
DOI: 10.4996/fireecology.0501056

Fire and invasions by nonnative plants can change the structure and function of ecosystems, and independent effects of each of these processes have been well studied. When fire is restored to areas where it has been excluded and the native plant communities have been invaded by nonnative species, changes in vegetation structure and composition are likely to alter the fire regime. These changes, in turn, might alter the effects of fire on wildlife and wildlife habitat. In this paper, we develop a framework to evaluate whether fire and plant invasion act as independent, additive processes, or whether applying fire in invaded areas results in novel effects on wildlife. We explore changes in abundance of three small mammal species in response to experimental fires set along a gradient of dominance by Lehmann lovegrass (Eragrostis lehmanniana), an African bunchgrass that has invaded semidesert grasslands of the southwestern USA. For two of three species of small mammals, the effect of fire on abundance varied with the degree of invasion, suggesting a fire invasion interaction. In systems dominated by nonnative plants, fire can function differently than it did prior to invasion, especially for animals with habitat requirements that match conditions created by the invading plant species. Consequently, prescriptions for restoration fires will need to consider the novel effects of fires on native plants and animals in areas where the plant community has changed.

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