Fuel reduction in the wildland–urban interface is a widely used international strategy for assisting human communities regarding wildfire threats, but very little research has examined whether certain fuel reduction methods and their seasonal timing promote nonnative invasion. To address this issue, we evaluated nonnative and native plant response to five of the most commonly-practiced shrubland fuel reduction methods in Mediterranean climates, including (a) fall prescribed fire, (b) winter prescribed fire, (c) spring prescribed fire, (d) fall mastication (slashing) and (e) spring mastication. Treatments were replicated four times in mature northern California chaparral and surveyed for three years after treatment; treatment type was randomly assigned. We found that the effects of treatment type (fire/mastication) were more apparent than the effects of treatment season (fall/winter/spring), but there were some differences among seasons of prescribed fire. Mastication treatments had the highest number of nonnative invasive species. Mastication treatments also had 34% higher nonnative annual grass abundance than the fire treatments. Winter and spring prescribed fire treatments were most resistant to nonnative invasion since these areas had the fewest nonnative species, lowest nonnative species abundances, and highest relative proportions of native plants. In shrublands where controlling nonnative annual grass is an important objective, managers should consider cool season prescribed fire as a viable fuel reduction treatment. In cases where prescribed fire is not feasible, mastication provides an alternative that can exacerbate nonnative grass production in the short term but may maintain native plant seedbanks over the long term if the site remains undisturbed for several decades. Results from this study could be applicable to other areas of Mediterranean shrublands.
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