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Is prescribed fire a suitable management tool to reduce shrub encroachment in palm savannas?

Nahuel Policelli, Pablo Picca, Isabel E. Gómez Villafañe
Restoration ecology 2019 v.27 no.1 pp. 109-119
Arecaceae, botanical composition, ecosystems, environmental impact, fire regime, fire suppression, forests, grasslands, phenology, plant communities, prescribed burning, savannas, shrubs, stakeholders, vegetation cover
Shrub encroachment in grasslands is a worldwide problem that has many ecological consequences, transforming previously open environments into dense forests. Disruption of natural fire regimes is one of the main causes of shrub encroachment, and the use of prescribed fire is a common strategy used to restore these ecosystems. In this study, we provide information about how a palm tree savanna under a process of shrub encroachment responds to the reintroduction of fire. We describe the effects of a first fire event on vegetation composition and structure using an experimental approach. We examine a species‐specific response to the fire. After one prescribed fire event applied to four study areas of 16 ha each, we analyzed the change in vegetation physiognomy and composition in burned and control plots for 1 year. Low‐intensity prescribed fire decreased height and cover of most shrub species and increased herbaceous vegetation cover over time. We classified shrub and herbaceous species response to fire according to the time they became present and their phenological characteristics. Our results can help stakeholders to determine if prescribed fire is helpful at reducing shrub encroachment in short term in similar ecosystems, considering how plant community responds to the reintroduction of fire after decades of fire suppression.