Effects of Season of Burning on the Microenvironment of Fescue Prairie in Central Saskatchewan


  • O. W. Archibold Department of Geography, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5A5
  • E. A. Ripley Department of Plant Sciences, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7N 5A8
  • L. Delanoy Meewasin Valley Authority, 403 3rd Avenue South, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7K 3G5




Plains Rough Fescue, Festuca altaica subspecies hallii, albedo, fire, microclimate, snow cover, soil temperature, soil moisture, Saskatchewan


The microenvironmental effects of spring, summer and autumn burns were investigated for a small area of fescue prairie in Saskatchewan over two growing seasons. Maximum fire temperature in all burns exceeded 300°C at a height of 5-10 cm in the canopy. At a depth of 1 cm in the soil, temperature increased to 40°C during the summer burn, but was unaffected by burns at other seasons. Spring-burned grasses recovered to the same height as the unburned control plot by the end of the first summer. Grass height was similar in all plots by the end of the second growing season, but aboveground biomass in all burned plots was about half that of the control. Graminoid leaf area index at the end of the second growing season ranged from 0.65 in the control plot to 0.27 in the autumn burn. Surface albedos dropped to about 0.03 immediately after burning and took about 3 months to return to the pre-burn values near 0.20. By mid-June of the second year, albedos were similar in all plots. Soil temperatures at 50 cm depth in the burned plots were higher than in the control during the first summer and lower during the winter. The greatest winter snowpack (73 mm water equivalent) accumulated in the control, compared to 48, 35 and 25 mm in the spring, summer and autumn burned plots, respectively. In the first growing season the greatest demand for water occurred in the spring plot followed by the summer, control and autumn plots. In the second season water demand did not differ significantly among plots, reflecting the similarities in plant cover. The microenvironmental effects of a single burning episode in fescue prairie disappear rather quickly, so that there is little long-term impact on the vegetation.