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Fire and Nitrogen Alter Axillary Bud Number and Activity in Purple Threeawn

M.L. Russell, L.T. Vermeire
Rangeland ecology & management 2015 v.68 no.1 pp. 65-70
Aristida purpurea, autumn, buds, fertilizer application, grasses, meristems, nitrogen, summer, tillers, wildfires, Montana
Belowground accumulation of vegetative buds provides a reservoir of meristems that can be utilized following disturbance. Perennial grass bud banks are the primary source of nearly all tiller growth, yet understanding of fire and nitrogen effects on bud banks is limited. We tested effects of fire and nitrogen addition on bud banks of purple threeawn (Aristida purpurea Nutt.), a perennial C4 bunchgrass. Fire (no fire, summer fire, fall fire) and nitrogen addition (0, 46, 80 kg·ha-1) treatments were assigned in a completely randomized, fully factorial design and axillary buds were evaluated on two similar sites in southeastern Montana 1 and 2 years after fire. Permanently marked plants were assessed for live tiller production, and randomly selected tillers were sampled to determine active and dormant buds per tiller. Fire and nitrogen had opposite effects on axillary buds. Summer and fall fire reduced active buds by 42% relative to nonburned plots. Adding nitrogen at 46 or 80 kg·ha-1 increased active buds per tiller 60% compared with plots with no nitrogen addition. The number of dormant buds per tiller was similar across fire treatments and levels of nitrogen. Fire and nitrogen had interacting effects on total buds at the tiller level. Without nitrogen addition, fall and summer fire reduced total buds per tiller about 70%. Nitrogen had no effect on total buds per tiller for nonburned plants. However, total number of buds per tiller was greater with nitrogen addition following fall fire and increased with each increase in nitrogen following summer fire. Results indicate fire effectively controls purple threeawn through bud bank reduction and that nitrogen can stimulate bud production. Interacting effects of fire and nitrogen on buds reveal a potential source of inconsistency in nitrogen effects and a possible method of facilitating recovery of fire-sensitive bunchgrasses after fire.