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Citation. Davis, M. A.; Villinski, J.; McAndrew, S.; Scholtz, H.; Young, E. 1991. Survivorship of Penstemon grandiflorus in an oak woodland: combined effects of fire and pocket gophers. Oecologia 86:113-118.   [1039  E133  LTER]

Summary. The effects of fire and pocket gophers, Geomys bursarius, on the survivorship of Penstemon grandiflorus growing in an oak woodland in Minnesota were studied from 1986 to 1990. Plants growing in sparse vegetation experienced mortality rates twice that of plants growing in dense vegetation. This difference was due partly to pocket gophers whose earth moving activities reduce the density of vegetation and bury and kill individual Penstemon plants. Laboratory feeding trials showed that gophers readily eat Penstemon, particularly the fleshy roots. An experiment involving the removal of 25-75% of the root tissue in 90 plants showed that root loss significantly reduced survivorship, suggesting that gopher herbivory might also kill plants. When gophers were experimentally excluded, plants growing in sparse vegetation exhibited significantly lower mortality rates than those growing in dense vegetation. Plants in the smallest size class exhibited reduced survivorship following a late spring burn; however overall patterns of survivorship of plants in burned areas did not differ markedly from those in the unburned areas. A longitudinal analysis of plants with different reproductive histories revealed no survivorship cost to reproduction. Mortality rates decreased with increasing plant size. Small plants were more likely to be killed by fire and by being buried under gopher mounds. Differences in underground energy reserves of small and large plants can account for most of the survivorship patterns observed in this study. The study shows that within openings of the oak woodland, fire and gophers reduce the survival of individual Penstemon plants. Nevertheless, since both gophers and fire also serve to perpetuate suitable habitat in the woodland. Penstemon is ultimately dependent on both for its long term persistence in the landscape.

Keywords. Penstemon grandiflorus, Geomys bursarius, Fire, Disturbance

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