Abstract

Climate change and exotic plant invasions are significant anthropogenic threats to desert community structure and resilience . In the Mojave Desert, the invasive grass red brome (Bromusrubens L) is increasing fire frequency and extent in response to climatic factors. The resilience of this ecosystem will be affected by how plant and animal communities respond to fire. To better understand these dynamics, we studied the environmental factors underlying changes in invasive grass fire regimes in the Mojave Desert and its structural and functional effects on plant and animal communities. Following fire, reestablishment of native vegetation can be preempted by repeated burning associated with the abundant exotic grass red brome. Red brome density is correlated with various climate and landscape variables, but to establish causality, we experimentally assessed germination and growth of red brome. Red brome responded positively to fall precipitation, finer-textured soils, fertile-islands soils, and soils from burned landscapes. Red brome germination is maximized in wet fall periods when adequate water and optimal temperatures overlap . To evaluate landscape responses of pre- and post-fire plant communities and the potential for repeated burning we analyzed vegetation greenness (NDVI) data from 1985-2011 in response to temperature and precipitation. Landscape analysis indicated that the dominance of exotic grasses increases on post-fire landscapes. Following wet fall and winter seasons, high red brome productivity increases fire potential. Without mitigation, the establishment of an invasive-plant-driven fire regime is likely and may drive state transitions from arid shrublands to arid annual grasslands. Potential revegetation of post-fire landscapes will depend at least in part upon the physiological response of surviving vegetation to post-fire landscapes. Plant physiological responses to post-fire landscapes were generally neutral or positive, suggesting that revegetation of post-fire landscapes is not precluded by resource loss associated with fire and may even be enhanced by post-fire conditions. This will likely translate to increased reproductive potential of surviving plants. Alterations to small mammal populations will likely play a role in the reestablishment of vegetation (both native and exotics) as small mammals have strong top-down effects in arid ecosystems. Diversity and species richness responded negatively to burned landscapes as Merriam's kangaroo rat (Dipodomys merriami) increased in abundance while other species practically disappeared from burned landscapes. Merriam's kangaroo rat affects propagule sources through direct consumption, and seed dispersal. Increases in abundance and dominance of Merriam's kangaroo rat will likely alter plant recruitment.

Degree

PhD

College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences

Rights

http://lib.byu.edu/about/copyright/

Date Submitted

2013-07-08

Document Type

Dissertation

Handle

http://hdl.lib.byu.edu/1877/etd6441

Keywords

kangaroo rat, top-down effects, invasive-grass fire regime, bottom-up effects, fire, microhabitat, Mojave Desert, blackbrush, Joshua tree, creosote bush

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