Prescribed Burning Has Limited Long-Term Effectiveness in Controlling Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides) Encroachment into Fescue Grassland in Prince Albert National Park

Digit D. Guedo, Eric G. Lamb

Abstract


Encroachment into grassland by woody species is a global ecological phenomenon, and it is of particular concern in remnant fescue (Festuca) prairie at the aspen parkland–boreal forest ecotone. Fire suppression is thought to encourage encroachment; however, prescribed burning as a means of controlling encroachment and restoring system structure, function, and composition has had variable success. The objective of this study was to determine the effects of different season of burn, number of annual burns, and number of years after burning treatments on Trembling Aspen (Populus tremuloides) encroachment into the fescue grasslands within Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan. Temporal changes in density and cover of Trembling Aspen in grassland and grassland–forest transition plant communities were evaluated using data from a prescribed burn study conducted in Prince Albert National Park from 1975 to 2010. The effect of year (indicating varying amounts of time relative to prescribed burning) and the interaction between spring burning and year reflect a stimulatory effect of burning on Trembling Aspen suckering. Increased Trembling Aspen cover in the forest transition community with more annual burns, burning in the fall, and the interaction between year and number of annual burns and increased Trembling Aspen cover in the grassland community with year indicate that none of the treatments had lasting control of Trembling Aspen encroachment. Ongoing Trembling Aspen encroachment despite prescribed burning may be due to important missing interactions between fire and grazing. A change in the use and expectation of prescribed burning is needed when attempting to suppress Trembling Aspen encroachment into the fescue grasslands.

Keywords


encroachment; fescue prairie; fire suppression; grassland; Trembling Aspen; Populus tremuloides; prescribed burning; succession; Prince Albert National Park of Canada; Saskatchewan

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