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Canebrakes are monodominant stands of cane (Arundinaria gigantea [Walter] Muhl.), a bamboo native to and once prominent in the southeastern USA. Canebrakes were important wildlife habitat within the bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem. They have been reduced in areal coverage by an estimated 98% since European settlement due to land conversion and the drastic alteration of disturbance regimes in their floodplain habitat. Ongoing canebrake restoration efforts are hampered by incomplete understanding of the role of natural disturbance in cane ecology. We used a large tornado blow down and multiple prescribed fires to quantify the response of cane to the sequential disturbances of windstorm and fire in the Tensas Watershed of northeastern Louisiana using number and condition of bamboo stems (culms) as response variables. We hypothesized that culms would be more abundant in burned than in unburned stands and that culm populations in burned stands would be younger than in unburned stands. In this study, conducted four years post fire, effects of both windstorm and burning were additive and beneficial. Results indicate that periodic aboveground disturbance has three salutary effects on cane ramet demography: 1) clonal growth following disturbances more than compensates for any culms killed; 2) the cohort of new culms is younger than the culms they replace; and 3) disturbance appears to inoculate some cane stands for several years against local die-offs. Fire is a valuable tool for canebrake management. By periodically resetting cane stands, fires and other disturbances may have played a key role in canebrake formation and persistence over time.

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Fire Ecology

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