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Project description

The Use of Fire to Control Yellow Starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis L.) and Enhance Native Plant Diversity. (96FE042)
Program UC IPM competitive research grants program
J.M. DiTomaso, Vegetable Crops, UC Davis
Host/habitat Pastures
Pest Yellow Starthistle
Discipline Weed Science
Applied Field Ecology
Start year (duration)  1996 (Three Years)
Objectives Determine the effectiveness of 1, 2 and 3 years of controlled burning on yellow starthistle control and native plant compositionand diversity.

Examine the time-course of yellow starthistle reinfest-ation followingthree consecutive annual burns. From these findings, develop asustainable management strategy utilizing periodic controlled surfacefire.

Elucidate the factors responsible for enhancing the success of native plantsfollowing burning.

Around 1984, yellow starthistle began to spread rapidly throughout the grassland areas of the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park near Sonoma. In July 1993, and again in 1994 and 1995, we conducted a prescribed burn of a 30 acre infested test site when yellow starthistle was in the early flowering stage. An additional 155 acres were burned in early July 1995 and 1996, and late June 1997. While a single year of burning did not control yellow starthistle, it increases the native forb populations, as well as total plant diversity. Two consecutive years of burning, however, gave 68% control of yellow starthistle, and three years gave over 90%, while still maintaining high native plant diversity. The effectiveness of a three-year burn cycle was reflected in a 99.5% reduction in yellow starthistle seeds in the soil. Native perennial grasses increased by over 3-fold with three consecutive years of burning. When the area burned from 1993-1995 was left unburned thereafter, the yellow starthistle seed bank and the seedling count increased dramatically in subsequent years. This corresponded to an increase in yellow starthistle vegetative cover in summer. The recovery in starthistle correlated to a reduction in plant diversity in the site left unburned following a three-year burn. In summary, prescribed burning can be a valuable tool for starthistle suppression, and stimulation of native plant diversity and perennial grass populations, but should be incorporated into an integrated management system utilizing other control methods.

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