Repeated fires reduce plant diversity in low-elevation Wyoming big sagebrush (1984–2014)

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This study found that one fire fundamentally changed community composition and reduced species richness, and each subsequent fire reduced richness further. Alpha diversity decreased after one fire. Beta diversity declined after the third fire. Cover of exotics was 10% higher in all burned plots, and native cover was 20% lower than in unburned plots, regardless of frequency. Fire frequency and antecedent precipitation were the strongest predictors of beta diversity, while time since fire and vapor pressure deficit for the year of the fire were the strongest predictors of community composition. Given that a single fire has such a marked effect on species composition, and repeated fires reduce richness and beta diversity, we suggest that in lower elevation big sagebrush systems fire should be minimized as much as possible, perhaps even prescribed fire. Restoration efforts should be focused on timing with wet years on cooler, wetter sites.

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