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Background: Symphoricarpos, a genus of the Caprifoliaceae family, consists of about 15 species of clonal deciduous shrubs in North America and 1 species endemic to China. In North American tallgrass prairie, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (buckbrush) is the dominant shrub often forming large colonies via sexual and asexual reproductive mechanisms. Symphoricarpos shrubs, in particular S. orbiculatus, use a unique sexual reproductive mechanism known as layering where vertical stems droop and the tips root upon contact with the soil. Because of conflicting societal values of S. orbiculatus for conservation and agriculture and the current attempt to restore historical fire regimes, there is a need for basic research on the biological response of S. orbiculatus to anthropogenic burning regimes. Results: From 2007 through 2013 we applied prescribed fires in the late dormant season on grazed pastures in the Grand River Grasslands of Iowa. From 2011 to 2013, we measured how S. orbiculatus basal resprouting and layering stems were affected by patchy fires on grazed pastures, complete pasture fires on grazed pastures or fire exclusion without grazing for more than three years. We measured ramet height, ramet canopy diameter, stems per ramet, ramets per 100 m2, and probability of new layering stems 120 days after fire. Height in burned plots was lower than unburned plots but S. orbiculatus reached ~ 84% of pre-burn height 120 days after fire. Stems per ramet were 2x greater in the most recently burned plots due to basal re-sprouting. Canopy diameter and density of ramets was not affected by time since fire, but burned pastures had marginally lower densities than plots excluded from fire (P = 0.07). Fire triggered new layering stems and no new layering stems were found in plots excluded from fire. Conclusions: The mechanisms of both basal sprouting and aerial layering after fire suggest S. orbiculatus is tolerant to dormant season fires. Furthermore, dormant season fires, regardless if they were patchy fires or complete pasture fires, did not result in mortality of S. orbiculatus. Dormant season fires can reduce S. orbiculatus structural dominance and maintain lower ramet densities but also trigger basal resprouting and layering.
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John Derek Scasta, et al.
Scasta, John Derek; Engle, David M.; Harr, Ryan N.; and Debinski, Diane M., "Fire Induced Reproductive Mechanisms of a Symphoricarpos (Caprifoliaceae) Shrub after Dormant Season Burning" (2014). Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology Publications. 23.