Currently the size and frequency of wildfires are increasing at a global scale, including arid ecosystems that exhibit great sensitivity to disturbance. Fire effects on plant pollination and reproductive success in deserts are largely unknown. Plant dependence on animal pollinators for reproduction can increase the risk of reproductive failure if pollination services are hindered or lost. Species that depend on few taxonomically related pollinator species are expected to be most negatively affected by disturbances that disrupt pollination interactions. To assess fire and isolation effects on reproductive success in desert plant communities, and how wildfire influences the pollination success of generalist and specialist pollinated plants, the number of flowers, fruits, and viable seeds produced by plants surviving in burned and unburned desert landscapes were compared. Fire increased flower production for wind and generalist pollinated plants, and did not affect specialist plant flower production. Increases may be associated with positive physiological responses exhibited by plants surviving in burned areas. Fire did not affect pollination services. Wildfire effects on fruit production were neutral or positive, and overall seed:ovule ratios varied by 3% or less in burned and unburned areas for each pollination strategy. Increasing isolation within burned areas did not affect fruit production for generalist or specialist pollinated plants, suggesting that pollination services are functional across expansive burned desert landscapes. Annual reproductive output varied between years in burned and unburned areas, and shifts likely resulted from variation in annual precipitation patterns. Reductions in landscape reproductive output may be partially compensated by increased per plant fruit and seed production and maintaining pollinator services across burned landscapes, providing native shrub communities the possibility to naturally recover from fire disturbances. Habitat disturbances can influence plant interactions with herbivores, in addition to pollinators. To understand how fire and ungulate herbivory affect reproductive success of specialist pollinated desert plants, reproductive effort, floral herbivory, and pollinator visitation and success, were compared for Yucca baccata, and Yucca brevifolia in burned and unburned areas of the Mojave Desert. Fire increased Y. baccata flowering from 12% to 22% of plants in burned areas, but had no effect on the number of flowers or fruits produced per plant. Fruit set and pollinator collection failed at all sampled Y. baccata individuals, while fire and herbivory had no effect on Y. brevifolia flower, fruit, and pollinator collection. Herbivores consumed 50% and 67% of floral stalks produced by Y. baccata in unburned and burned areas. Herbivores pose a clear threat to successful sexual reproduction for Y. baccata. Removal of ungulate herbivores during important flowering periods may still result in failed fruit and seed production if local pollinator reserves have been drastically reduced or lost.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





fire, pollination, herbivory, flower production, fruit set, seed:ovule, Mojave Desert