An invasive grass increases live fuel proportion and reduces fire spread in a simulated grassland.
Fire is a globally important ecosystem process, and invasive grass species generally increase fire spread by increasing the fuel load and continuity of native grassland fuelbeds. We suggest that invasive grasses that are photosynthetically active, while the native plant community is dormant reduce fire spread by introducing high-moisture, live vegetation gaps in the fuelbed. We describe the invasion pattern of a high-moisture, cool-season grass, tall fescue (Schedonorus phoenix (Scop.) Holub), in tallgrass prairie, and use spatially explicit fire behavior models to simulate fire spread under several combinations of fuel load, invasion, and fire weather scenarios. Reduced fuel load and increased extent of tall fescue invasion reduced fire spread, but high wind speed and low relative humidity can partially mitigate these effects. We attribute reduced fire spread to asynchrony in the growing seasons of the exotic, cool-season grass, tall fescue, and the native, warm-season tallgrass prairie community in this model system. Reduced fire spread under low fuel load scenarios indicate that fuel load is an important factor in fire spread, especially in invaded fuel beds. These results present a novel connection between fire behavior and asynchronous phenology between invasive grasses and native plant communities in pyrogenic ecosystems.