Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) is the most widespread and common shrub in the sagebrush biome of western North America. Of the three most common subspecies of big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata), mountain big sagebrush (ssp. vaseyana; MBS) is the most resilient to disturbance, but still requires favorable climactic conditions and a viable post-fire seedbank for successful unassisted recovery. This study was designed to assess MBS seed production throughout post-fire recovery. We performed 2 pilot studies to develop methods for estimating seed production and plant age. The results of the pilot studies and a space-for-time substitution strategy were used to measure seed production on 13 sites ranging from 10-33 years post-fire. We hypothesized that seed rain (mean seeds produced/ m2) would peak before stand density had maximized due to decreasing individual plant fecundity (mean seeds produced/ plant) in high density stands. We measured population density and individual plant fecundity for three size classes of MBS and used forward stepwise regression analysis to identify environmental factors influencing seed production over time. Density for small (basal stem diameter (BSD) <1 cm) and medium-sized (BSD=1-3 cm) plants was consistently low and was not affected by time since fire (TSF), while large-sized (BSD > 3 cm) plant density increased steadily with TSF (p=0.0002). Plant fecundity decreased with TSF for all three size classes (p range = 0.019 – 0.0506), with large plants dominating reproductive output. Small and medium-sized plant fecundity was negatively correlated with winter precipitation (p range = 0.0106-0.0174), while large plant fecundity was positively correlated with winter precipitation (p<0.0001) and negatively correlated with elevation (p=0.0001). Despite losses in plant fecundity over time for all size classes, steady recruitment in population density resulted in increased seed rain (p=0.0039), suggesting that increases in stand density compensated for losses in individual plant fecundity. Results partially support our hypothesis that the time required for MBS seed rain to be maximized was not tightly bound to indicators of stand maturation. Understanding the factors that influence post-fire seed production can help land managers better manage for successful recovery by providing them with tools for evaluating seed production capabilities of MBS communities.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


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age estimation, fire, plant fecundity, plant density, seed rain, shrub cover