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Survival of the endangered Pima pineapple cactus: Does clearing before prescribed fire alter survival postfire?

September 1, 2017

Federal land managers and ranchers often use prescribed fire as a tool to reduce invading woody plants within desert grasslands of the arid southwestern United States. Managers must evaluate the threat of the burn toward the health and survival of plants of concern including how preemptive clearing before prescribed fire might benefit these species. One example is the endangered Pima pineapple cactus (Coryphantha scheeri var. robustispina), a small hemispheric cactus of desert scrublands and grasslands of south-central Arizona and northern Sonora, Mexico. In 2014, we examined survival of Pima pineapple cactus documented in 2009 or 2010 within grasslands of Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona. Of the 72 sites observed, 35 had no burn after documentation and 37 experienced prescribed fire. Refuge staff removed vegetation between 0.3 and 3.0 m from the cactus preburn. We found that Pima pineapple cacti in areas subjected to prescribed fire and with preemptive clearing had the same survival statistically as cacti from sites that were not burned.

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