Ecological restoration treatments are widely applied in southwestern ponderosa pine forests to convert them to an open canopy structure similar to that found at the time of Euro-American settlement. An experiment was initiated in northern Arizona in 1994 to evaluate long-term ecosystem responses to 3 restoration treatments: 1) thinning from below (thinning), 2) thinning from below plus forest floor manipulation with periodic prescribed burning (composite), and 3) an untreated control. Results focus on total herbaceous and functional-group standing crop response to these restoration treatments. Pretreatment data were collected in 1992 and posttreatment responses were measured from 1994 through 2004. Total herbaceous standing crop was significantly higher on the 2 treated areas than on the control over the entire posttreatment period, but did not differ between the thinning and composite treatments. Plant functional groups responded differently to treatments and to drought. In general, the graminoid standing crop responded within several years after the initial treatments and continued to increase through time, until a series of severe droughts reduced standing crop to pretreatment levels. C3 graminoids dominated the standing-crop response, of which bottlebrush squirreltail (Elymus elymoides (Raf.) Swezey ssp. elymoides) was the primary contributor. C4 graminoids had a minimal response to restoration treatments, possibly because they were less abundant before the experiment began or because they were adversely affected by autumn burning. Legumes and forbs exhibited a 4–5 year lag before responding to the thinning and composite treatments. Annual and biennial plants showed a large biomass increase approximately 5 years after implementation of the composite treatment. The restoration goal of optimizing herbaceous standing crop must be weighed against the competing goals of increasing the abundance of specific functional groups, increasing biodiversity or rare plants, and managing invasive plant species.
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