Effects of thinning, burning, seeding, and slash arrangements on understory communities in pinyon-juniper woodlands of northern Arizona

Maria Irwin, Alex Finkral, John Bailey


Pinyon-juniper woodlands are a dominant ecosystem in the American Southwest that have been increasing in density over the last century, generating concerns about the effects on wildlife habitat, livestock forage, and wildfire risk. We tested 16 treatment combinations designed to restore stands to historic conditions by examining the impact on understory plant richness and abundance. We thinned three sites comprised of different parent soil materials: limestone, sandstone, and basalt. Each site had one of four slash arrangements: piled, broadcast, clustered, or no thinning. Each of these arrangements received a different burning/seeding treatment: prescribed fire, seeding, prescribed fire and seeding, or none. This study corresponded with the driest period in the last 55 years, and plant species richness decreased by an average of 40% from the previous year in the control plots. Richness was significantly different due to slash arrangement at the basalt site only. Burning or seeding did not affect richness at any of the sites. Plant species abundance was generally low and not influenced by treatment or site. This study demonstrates that extensive ecosystem manipulation in the pinyon-juniper woodlands of northern Arizona did not affect understory richness or abundance the first year after treatment during a drought.


piñon; restoration; prescribed fire; understory response; silviculture

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