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Project ID: 16-2-01-27

Year: 2016

Date Started: 10/01/2016

Ending Date:  09/30/2018

Title: Post-fire recruitment of Great Basin big sagebrush species: spatial and temporal controls along regional gradients of soil temperature and moisture

Project Proposal Abstract: Sagebrush recovery is a central post-fire restoration objective across the sagebrush steppe zone of the western US, particularly in the context of habitat conservation for greater sage-grouse and other sagebrush-obligate wildlife species. Sagebrush establishment tends to be episodic, responding to temporal patterns of precipitation and temperature. However, differences in establishment may occur over precipitation gradients and the effects of drought years may be relatively greater on warmer and drier sites. Limited seed availability can greatly reduce recovery rate regardless of effective precipitation: sagebrush is a poor disperser with short-lived seed viability, so for large fires where seed availability to the interior is limited, the occurrence of favorable weather years for regeneration shortly after the fire event can be critical for recovery. Similarly, sites with high pre-fire tree cover, associated with a loss of understory species and associated seed banks, have been found to have slower sagebrush recovery following fire. In this study, we propose to examine the relationship between post-fire weather and sagebrush recovery along gradients of soil temperature and moisture and seed availability, using pre-fire tree cover as a proxy for seed availability. Eleven sites are arrayed across the Great Basin and adjacent sagebrush steppe areas, and represent three distinct site types based on soil temperature and moisture regimes: mesic/aridic, cool mesic/xeric to warm frigid/xeric, and frigid to cool frigid/xeric. All sites were burned in 2006 or 2008, and each burned area contained a gradient of pre-fire tree cover. We will use dendrochronological techniques to precisely date the timing of post-fire sagebrush establishment, exploring the interacting effects of climate and site type on annual rates of establishment. We expect to find that the influence of climate on establishment is mediated by spatial variation in soil moisture/temperature, with the influence of stochastic weather events on establishment rates stronger at warmer, drier sites. We will then examine the relationship between post-fire sagebrush cover, a variable of direct management relevance, and the frequency of climatically favorable opportunities for establishment across gradients of seed availability. We expect that sagebrush cover will be higher at sites with more frequent establishment episodes, but that sites with high seed availability (i.e. low pre-fire tree cover) will be more likely to regain adequate cover with infrequent establishment opportunities. The study will take place in a network of prescribed fires within the Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP), a long-term experimental study examining fuel treatment effects in Wyoming and mountain big sagebrush ecosystems affected by pinyon and juniper expansion. By examining the interaction of temporal stochasticity in weather with spatial variability of soil moisture/temperature, we will gain a more nuanced perspective of how sagebrush recruitment varies along environmental gradients, as well as how resilience to disturbance may be influenced by future climate change. We will use our findings to develop management guidelines for selecting resilient landscapes for prescribed fire treatments and for prioritizing the location and timing of post-wildfire sagebrush seeding treatments.

Principal Investigator: Peter J. Weisberg

Agency/Organization: University of Nevada-Reno

Branch or Dept: Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Science

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Charlene R. Hart

University of Nevada-Reno

Office of Sponsored Projects

Budget Contact

Troy D. Boni

University of Nevada-Reno

Office of Sponsored Projects


Jeanne C. Chambers

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Reno


Bruce A. Roundy

Brigham Young University

Department of Plant & Wildlife Sciences

Student Investigator

Alexandra K. Urza

University of Nevada-Reno

Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Science

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Great Basin






Interior West


Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
There are no deliverables available for this project.

Supporting Documents

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