The introduction and establishment of exotic species can profoundly alter ecosystems. Two exotic species drastically changing the landscape of deserts in western North America are Bromus tectorum L. and Bromus rubens L. Through the buildup of biomass and slow decomposition rates in deserts these two exotic annual grasses can alter fire regimes that change the plant and animal community dynamics in the ecosystems. To better understand the ecological mechanisms that could restrict or alter the patterns of invasive plant establishment we established a replicated full factorial experiment in the Great Basin and Mojave Desert. The combinations of factors being manipulated are burned or intact plant communities, and presence or exclusion of small mammals. Generally invasive species establishment is thought to be a result of competitive superiority or lack of natural enemies, but if that is the case then why do not all invasive species establish and become highly abundant in their new ecosystems? To understand why some invasive species establish and others do not we monitored three dominant exotic species from the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert, B. tectorum, Halogeton glomeratus (M. Bieb.) C.A. Mey., and B. rubens. We observed that the presence of small mammals create a biotic resistance to B. tectorum, H. glomeratus, and B. rubens. This pattern was observed in both intact and burned plant communities; however, it was most prevalent in the burned plant communities. The strength of the biotic resistance on these invasive species varied between species and the years sampled. In deserts both plant and small mammal communities are tightly tied to precipitation. We wanted to understand how invasive species establishment is affected by small mammal presence after a fire disturbance, and manipulating total precipitation. Total precipitation was manipulated through three different treatments: 1) drought or 30% reduction of ambient precipitation; 2) ambient precipitation; 3) water addition or an increase of 30% ambient precipitation. We focused on B. rubens establishment in the Mojave Desert as our model organism by monitoring it beneath rain manipulation shelters nested in burned/intact and small mammal presence/absence full factorial plots. What we observed was that again small mammals created a biotic resistance on the density of B. rubens regardless of the burn or precipitation treatments. This biotic resistance also translated into decreasing B. rubens biomass and seed density. Under the drought and ambient precipitation treatments we found that small mammals kept the density and biomass equal but under increased precipitation the efficacy of biotic resistance on B. rubens density and biomass was lessened by the availability of the added water.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Biology



Date Submitted


Document Type





Great Basin, Mojave Desert, biotic resistance, invasive species, fire, climate change, top-down and bottom-up effects

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Biology Commons