The resilience of willow (Salix monticola Bebb, Salix geyeriana Anderss., Salix planifolia Pursh) stems released from intense elk (Cervus elaphus) browsing in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, was quantified in 1998 with a retrospective study that compared biomass, number, and length of segments on willow stems located inside (protected) and outside (browsed) elk exclosures. Segment biomass increased each year after protection by about 3–12 g year−1 on browsed stems and 10–27 g year−1 on protected stems. The number of segments on stems was similar for browsed and protected stems in the first 2 years after exclusion but differed in the next 3 years, when they increased exponentially on protected stems. Nearly 80% of segments on browsed stems were < 5 cm in length in 1994–1997, which caused stems to develop a short-hedged morphology. Protected stems had more long segments and fewer short segments than browsed stems for the first 3 years, but then increased their number of short segments as stems became tall and bushy. Thus, evidence suggests short-hedged willow stems are highly resilient and can rapidly recover height and vigor after protection from intense elk browsing.
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Vol. 58 • No. 6