Exotic grasses capable of increasing frequency and intensity of anthropogenic fire have invaded subtropical and tropical dry forests worldwide. Since many dry forest trees are susceptible to fire, this can result in decline of native species and loss of forest cover. While the contribution of exotic grasses to altered fire regimes has been well documented, the role of native grasses in contributing to fuel loads in dry forest has received little attention. We assessed differences in fuel conditions among native and exotic grasses within a subtropical dry forest preserve in Puerto Rico. We quantified fine fuel loads, fuel continuity, and seasonal changes in percent dead grass among the following grass patch types: (1) native grass with no known history of recent fire, (2) exotic grass that had burned once (single burn), and (3) exotic grass that burns frequently. Sampling was conducted during one wet season (August to October 2008) and again in the following dry season (February to March 2009). Overall, fine fuel loading was highest in native grass, but this was due to woody fuels rather than grass fuels. Percent of dead grass fuels increased with the transition from wet to dry season, and this increase was more pronounced for exotic grasses. Fuel continuity was highest in frequently burned exotic grass. Differences in grass phenology and fuel continuity may contribute to differences in fire frequency among native and exotic grass patches. Fuel management focused on prescribed fire should be used in conjunction with restoration of tree canopy to reduce fuels and limit development of a grass-fire cycle.
Thaxton, J.M., S.J. Van Bloem, and S. Whitmire. 2012. Fuel conditions associated with native and exotic grasses in a subtropical dry forest in Puerto Rico. Fire Ecology 8(3): 9-17. doi: 10.4996/fireecology.0803009