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A survey of 460 sagebrush populations across the Great Basin reveals the importance of fertile islands and remnant sagebrush shrubs for post-fire seedling establishment.

Sagebrush plants form the foundation of a vast shrubland across western North America and are increasingly threatened by wildfires. As a fire-intolerant shrub, sagebrush recovery depends on seeds from the seedbank, blown in from nearby areas, or from reseeding efforts. USGS scientists surveyed 460 sagebrush populations across the Great Basin for post-wildfire seedling establishment. Seedlings were uncommon in the first 1-2 years, but aerial seeding dramatically increased the number compared to unseeded locations. However, repeat surveys suggested very high mortality after the first year. Seedlings tended to be found in “fertile islands,” patches beneath the former canopy of fire-consumed sagebrush. Seedlings in unseeded locations were often near fire-surviving, adult plants. In the absence of fertile islands and remnant plants, seedling establishment was not observed in any unseeded areas and rarely in seeded locations. These results highlight the importance of protecting existing sagebrush stands from wildfire and suggest that reseeding may be most effective in areas with pre-fire shrubs. 

Arkle, R.S., Pilliod, D.S., Germino, M.J., Jeffries, M.I., and Welty, J.L., 2022, Reestablishing a foundational species- limitations on post-wildfire sagebrush seedling establishment: Ecosphere, v. 13, no. 8, e4195.

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