Wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) may limit woody plant encroachment in longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) ecosystems
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Wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) is a dominant groundcover species that facilitates fire in southeastern U.S.A. pine savannas, thereby limiting woody plant cover and maintaining a herbaceous dominated understory. In December 1993 two of us planted a plot of wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) in the midst of fire-maintained little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) savanna in the outer Coastal Plain of South Carolina. The plot and the surrounding area burned three times in the following 20 y. Vegetation sampling carried out in late summer 2013 indicated wiregrass dominated the plot and the majority of little bluestem had disappeared. The wiregrass plot was comparatively open and grass dominated, whereas the surrounding formerly bluestem dominated stand had filled in with loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) saplings as well as hardwood trees and shrubs. In addition wiregrass had reproduced and established away from the original planted area, most noticeably within a soil-disturbed plow line. A subsequent prescribed fire in spring 2014 burned with higher intensity within the wiregrass plot than in the surrounding area. Our observations suggest suppression of woody plant encroachment by dense wiregrass in pine savannas even during long fire free periods, which should reduce the likelihood of transition to hardwood dominated ecosystems.