The Highway Fire burned 1680 ha of mixed ponderosa pine-oak-chaparral in the newly created Giant Sequoia National Monument and the adjacent Sequoia National Forest of Fresno County, California in August 2001. The USDA Forest Service Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) program recommended that portions of the burned forest be seeded with a non-persistent variety of wheat at a density of 157 kg ha-1 (140 lb/ac). The present study compared the vascular plant diversity and cover in seeded and unseeded parts of this burn to evaluate the ecological impact of seeding an alien grass. In the first post-fire growing season, the natural regeneration of unseeded control sites averaged ???55% ground surface covered. Wheat seeding enhanced the ground cover, averaging 95% ground surface cover. Wheat was the dominant species on the seeded sites, comprising 67% of the total cover. Dominance-diversity curves were markedly affected by the seeding and indicated a disruption in the natural ecological structure of these communities. On seeded sites, wheat dominated and all other species were poorly represented whereas, on unseeded control sites, there was a more equitable distribution of species. Correlated with the wheat cover was a significant decrease in species richness at all scales examined. Total species richness was reduced from 152 species across all unseeded sites to 104 species on all seeded sites. Average species richness, at scales from 1 to 1000 m2, was 30-40% lower on seeded sites. Species most strongly inhibited were post-fire endemics whose lifecycle is restricted to immediate post-fire environments. Seeded sites had fewer alien species than unseeded sites; however, this may not have any lasting effect since other studies show the primary alien threat is not in the first post-fire year. Seeding was also associated with an order of magnitude drop in Pinus ponderosa seedling recruitment and, coupled with the massive thatch still remaining on the site, it is likely that recruitment will be inhibited in subsequent years.
Additional publication details
Ecological impacts of wheat seeding after a Sierra Nevada wildfire