Great Basin Naturalist


Historical accounts and matched photographs indicate sharp decline of once-abundant Kochia americana in eastern Great Basin vegetation since the early 1900s, most of the decline by the late 1950s. Exclosure data show further decline from 1957 to 1973, then some increase between 1970 and 1973 and 1976 and 1981. Utah sheep numbers, at maximum from 1925 to 1940 and declining steadily to the 1970s, may have induced the long-term changes. Black-tailed jackrabbits (Lepus californicus), could not have induced vegetation decline, but could have added to livestock pressure and abetted the trend. In 1972, rabbits near a cyclic high were indirectly estimated to completely utilize K. americana in Curlew Valley, northwestern Utah. In 1976–1977 at rabbit low, direct measurements show 4%–18% of plants browsed by late summer, about 30%–50% of herbage removed from browsed plants. The latter rose to 45%–82% by end of winter. Late-summer percent browsed may have risen slightly (11%–21%) in 1980–1981 at next rabbit high. Increase in K. americana density from 1973 to 1976, then a slight decrease from 1976 to 1980, suggests fluctuating K. americana abundance induced by rabbit browsing, superimposed on long-term K. americana decline and recovery.