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Burning and Grazing Management in a California Grassland: Effect on Bunchgrass Seed Viability

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Prescribed fire is an important management tool for reducing the dominance of non-native species in annual grasslands; both annual and perennial native species show strong vegetative responses in the subsequent growing season. However, although the post-fire contribution of native species to the seed bank is assumed to be larger than in pretreatment years, the effects on seed quality, particularly viability and longevity, are not well understood. In this study, I germinated Nassella pulchra (purple needlegrass) seed that had been stored for 10 years after collection from target plants receiving treatment combinations of summer burning and grazing by sheep. Seeds from burned plants were larger and had higher germinability than seed from unburned plants. Seeds from plants that were both burned and grazed had the highest germination. The strong relationship between long-term viability and seed size suggests greater maternal provisioning and increased seed quality subsequent to burning and grazing. I conclude that managing for seed quality may be a useful approach for conservation of native species in California's critically endangered grassland habitats.
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