Question: How does fire influence species richness and diversity in subtropical grassland in southern Brazil?
Location: Recurrently burned grassland in Porto Alegre, Brazil (30°03′ S, 51°07′ W; max. altitude 311 m a.s.l.) and abandoned grassland near São Francisco de Paula, Brazil (29°47′ S, 50°22′ W; ca. 900 m a.s.l.).
Methods: In the burned grassland, between-year changes in community composition and single-plot diversity, species number and vegetation structure were analysed in two consecutive years for plots with different time since last fire. Responses to fire of individual species were analysed. At the abandoned site, diversity, species number and vegetation structure were examined.
Results: Species number and small-scale species turnover were highest ca. one year after the burn, and decreased as caespitose grasses increased in cover with time since fire until reaching a stable, but less diverse state three to four years after a fire. The abandoned grassland showed higher dominance of caespitose grasses and lower richness and diversity.
Conclusions: Fire clearly leads to a short-term increase in species richness and diversity at the plot scale, as competitive interactions are being reduced and recruitment possibilities are high in early post-fire vegetation development. Overall community composition does not change after a fire. While small herbs seem to be slightly favoured in the early post-fire environment, no clear group of fire following species (absent in vegetation unburned for longer) was observed. The results indicate that the community is adapted to the current fire regime and is being maintained under the influence of fire.