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    Description

    Deciduous shrubs are widely distributed throughout temperate and boreal conifer forests and influence a wide range of ecological processes and forest resources. In the interior western U.S., many deciduous shrubs are highly preferred forage by wild (elk, Cervus canadensis; deer, Odocoileus spp.) and domestic (cattle) ungulates which can influence shrub abundance, composition, structural characteristics, and related ecological processes and interactions. Stand disturbances and silvicultural practices can also affect shrub assemblages and managers in the interior western U.S. are increasingly implementing fuels reduction treatments such as stand thinning and prescribed fire to reduce fuel loads caused by more than a century of fire suppression. We evaluated the effects of ungulate herbivory and fuels reduction, alone and in concert, on deciduous shrub assemblages in coniferous dry forests of the interior west. We measured shrub richness, diversity, height, abundance and community composition in forest stands that underwent fuels reduction 15–17 years earlier, compared to untreated stands where no silvicultural treatments have occurred in over 50 years. Within each stand type, we also measured shrub assemblages in stands with and without ungulate herbivory. Shrub richness, diversity, frequency and height all declined in stands subjected to either fuels reduction treatments or herbivory; effects were most pronounced under the combined effect of fuels reduction and herbivory. Fuels reduction and herbivory also resulted in significant differences in shrub abundance and assemblage composition. Fuels reduction in dry forests with abundant ungulates may contribute to suppressed, more homogenous shrub communities. These effects may result in unintended impacts or alterations to important ecosystem processes and forest resources. Our results highlight the importance of considering responses of forest resources with low economic value, such as shrubs, in forest management activities.

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    Citation

    Hall Defrees, Dallas; Averett, Joshua P.; Wisdom, Michael J.; Endress, Bryan A. 2020. Interactive effects of fuels reduction and large herbivores on shrub assemblages in dry conifer forests of the interior west, USA. Forest Ecology and Management. 463: 118031-. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118031.

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    Keywords

    Dry forests, forest shrubs, fire, fuels reduction, herbivory, ungulate herbivory, vegetation development, prescribed burning.

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https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/60459