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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 21(1)

Effects of high fire frequency in creosote bush scrub vegetation of the Mojave Desert

Matthew L. Brooks

US Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Yosemite Field Station, 5083 Foresta Road. El Portal, CA 95318-0700, USA. Email: matt_brooks@usgs.gov

International Journal of Wildland Fire 21(1) 61-68 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/WF10140
Submitted: 4 December 2010  Accepted: 17 May 2011   Published: 24 October 2011


 
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Abstract

Plant invasions can increase fire frequency in desert ecosystems where fires were historically infrequent. Although there are many resource management concerns associated with high frequency fire in deserts, fundamental effects on plant community characteristics remain largely unstudied. Here I describe the effects of fire frequency on creosote bush scrub vegetation in the Mojave Desert, USA. Biomass of the invasive annual grass Bromus rubens L. increased following fire, but did not increase further with additional fires. In contrast, density, cover and species richness of native perennial plants each decreased following fire and continued to decrease with subsequent fires, although not as dramatically as after the initial fire. Responses were similar 5 and 14 years post-fire, except that cover of Hymenoclea salsola Torr. & A. Gray and Achnatherum speciosa Trin. & Rupr. both increased in areas burnt once. These results suggest that control of B. rubens may be equally warranted after one, two or three fires, but revegetation of native perennial plants is most warranted following multiple fires. These results are valid within the scope of this study, which is defined as relatively short term vegetation responses (≤14 years) to short fire return intervals (6.3 and 7.3 years for the two and three fire frequency levels) within creosote bush scrub of the Mojave Desert.

Additional keywords: annual grass, Bromus rubens, disturbance, ecosystem transformer, fire effects, grass–fire cycle, red brome.


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