A common explanation for the changes in species abundance following a fire is a shift in competitive ranking. However, experimental tests have been inconsistent and generally do not support this explanation. I examined the competitive ability of an abundant C 4 grass, Andropogon gerardii , and a C 3 forb, Ratibida pinnata , in a prairie remnant in northern Ohio, USA, for each of three years following a spring burn in 1996. While the abiotic environment directly influenced both species similarly, relative competitive abilities in terms of growth changed markedly: in 1996 Andropogon was less inhibited by neighbors; in 1997 both Andropogon and Ratibida had similar competitive abilities; and in 1998 Ratibida was less inhibited by neighbors. This shift in competitive response ranking paralleled the changes in relative abundance for the two species. In contrast, the effect of neighbors on survival changed markedly over time but did not differ among the two species. Thus, fire may influence species abundance through changing species competitive response ranking, at least in terms of growth.