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forest fire seeds

One example includes their work on sagebrush seed, which is small, fine and has an almost sawdust quality to it when piled up, which tends to clog up seeders and not disperse well. Madsen and his team combined the sagebrush seed with clay and other filler material to make pellets which then allows for more uniform distribution.

Using seed enhancement technology never before used in rangeland restoration, Madsen and his students are leading an effort to reseed fire-scorched landscapes across the Great Basin with native plants. This technology includes seed coatings traditionally used in commercial farming (for food products) and other treatments that are specifically formulated for rangeland seeds.

How it works and which coating is used depends on the seed, but the goal is always the same: help the seeds get distributed evenly into the soil and give them the best chance for survival.

Catastrophic fires in the West are burning hotter than ever, leaving paths of destruction through both human development and native plant ecosystems.

These charred landscapes, barren of natural plant growth, become a vacuum for the growth of invasive species like cheatgrass which, unlike more fire-resistant native plants, fuel fires and help them spread faster and burn hotter. If left unchecked, the process becomes a dangerous cycle of flames.

The team has developed eight different seed coatings they are now applying to the seeds of several other native plant species. After they lay down the seed in the fall, Madsen and his team of students return the following spring to check on emergence and then revisit in summer to see how growth is faring. Their work on one species, bluebunch wheatgrass, has yielded a 60% increase in plant emergence. On close inspection of the emerging and thriving plants, the seeds with the seed-enhancement coatings are the ones doing better and surviving.

“If we don’t get native plants back on the landscapes, we’re going to have more and more fires and those fires are going to be increasingly destructive,” said Matt Madsen, BYU professor of plant and wildlife sciences. “When we look at our landscapes and how much has been burned, a lot of times we don’t even have enough seed to go around and there’s also a lack of performance of the seed that does get planted. It’s a really big challenge.”

“If we can get them to grow through the first year, they’ll be there on the landscape for years to come,” Madsen said.

Fire modifies the germination of seeds of numerous species. One of the fire factors that cause these modifications is the ash. This study analysed the germination of seeds of Pinus sylvestris L., Pinus nigra Arn. Pinus radiata D. Don and Pinus pinaster Aiton, subjected to different ash treatments, and the development of seedlings that grew in these conditions for 14 weeks. We obtained the ash by completely burning leaves and small twigs from the most abundant woody species in populations of pines. The ash treatments applied were as follows: Control (without ash), Low (half of the amount registered in a fire), Medium (equal to the amount registered in a fire) and High (double the amount registered in a fire). Germination took place on paper inside Petri dishes and in soil, and growth was only analysed for the plants that grew in the soil. For all species, and especially P. nigra, germination rate decreased as the amount of ash applied increased. The negative effects of the ash were more apparent following treatments in Petri dishes than in the soil. In the dishes, the average germination time varies little between the four species of pine. In soil, the average germination time is more prolonged, and only some differences were observed between treatments in P. sylvestris and P. nigra. In these species the high treatment significantly increased the average germination time. We found a greater sensitivity of P. sylvestris and P. nigra to the addition of ash, showing a higher seedling mortality rate. However, it appears that seedling development (length and weight) was not affected in any of the species through the addition of ash. These tests allow us to deduce that, in P. sylvestris, P. nigra, P. radiata and P. pinaster, the ash produced by forest fires has an inhibiting effect on germination and little effect on the development of seedlings in the first months of life.