Editor’s Choice: Volume 109 Issue 3

The Editor’s Choice for our March issue is “Simulated Indigenous fire stewardship increases the population growth rate of an understorey herb” by Hart‐Fredeluces, Ticktin & Lake. This article presents beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) as a model system to explore the influence of Indigenous stewardship, or its absence, on population dynamics.

Here the handling Editor, Crystal McMichael, discusses differing fire management strategies, the interest in returning to Indigenous stewardship practices and the importance of comprehensive fire regime assessments.

You can read more about this article in our recent author blog from Georgia Hart-Fredeluces: Indigenous stewardship and the protection of plant biodiversity under global change.

Not all fires are created equally. Components of fire regimes include frequency and severity, and these components are affected by changes in climate and human ignition. The overall fire regime of a given ecosystem drives species diversity and relative abundances, particularly in forested systems. Indigenous stewardship of fire regimes has persisted in some forests for millennia, including those in the continental United States, and involves controlling fire frequency, fire severity, and leaf harvest (fuel load). Indigenous stewardship of fire regimes declined after European arrival to the American continent, and fire management approaches such as suppression and exclusion were introduced in recent centuries. The ecological consequences have often been devastating.

Beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) plants burn during a prescribed cultural fire in the Six Rivers National Forest, northern California. Photograph: Frank K. Lake.

Governmental agencies and policy makers in the United States have started to become aware that many current fire management strategies (e.g. fire suppression and exclusion) are ineffective. Consequently, there has been increasing interest in reintroducing Indigenous fire stewardship practices. There is some uncertainty, however, as to how these practices would affect the current diversity and composition of plant communities, particularly in novel systems. In this month’s Editor’s Choice article, Hart-Fredeluces et al. (2021) use empirical data and integral projection models to assess various fire regimes on the population dynamics of beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax), a culturally, economically, and ecologically important species that has been managed by Indigenous people for thousands of years in the US Pacific Northwest.

Hart-Fredeluces et al. (2021) developed models of beargrass populations under various fire stewardship scenarios. They found that fire suppression (no fire) and ‘business as usual’ scenarios (low frequency, high severity fire) will lead to severe declines in beargrass populations, and the inability of the species to persist on longer timescales. Indigenous fire management includes recurrent, low severity fires with leaf harvesting, which resulted in increasing beargrass populations and long-term persistence.

Bear Grass (Xerophyllum tenax) – West Glacier, Monatana, USA. Photograph: Glacier National Park, NPS.

Hart-Fredeluces et al. (2021) take a novel approach to assess the effects and interactions of harvest and other Indigenous fire management strategies on plant demography. The study also highlights how comprehensive assessments of fire regimes are necessary for understanding species diversity and assemblage patterns and dynamics. The results from this study are also a prime example of how current management strategies of various ecosystem processes could be improved by incorporating the ecological knowledge and practices of Indigenous people.

Crystal McMichael Associate Editor, Journal of Ecology

You can read the full article by Hart‐Fredeluces, Ticktin & Lake here: Simulated Indigenous fire stewardship increases the population growth rate of an understorey herb.

One thought on “Editor’s Choice: Volume 109 Issue 3

  1. Pingback: Volume 109 Issue 3 | Journal of Ecology Blog

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