Relict sites are geographically isolated areas that are undisturbed by direct and indirect human influences. These sites facilitate long-term ecological monitoring by providing a reference for gauging impacts occurring elsewhere. Knowledge gained through comparing vegetation change on matched relict and proximal disturbed areas can help partition the causes of change into natural and human-produced components. Fishtail Mesa in Grand Canyon National Park is a 439-ha relict site that is inaccessible to domestic livestock. Human visitation is infrequent and irregular, and fires have never been suppressed or managed. In 1958, U.S. Forest Service range scientists conducted a survey of Fishtail Mesa to gather reference data on vegetation, wildlife, and soils. Vegetation sampling was conducted using a method called the "elb." We returned to Fishtail Mesa in May 1996 to perform a general vegetation and floristic survey, assess the extent of vegetation change after 38 years, and evaluate the suitability of the site as a location for long-term surveillance of ecological change. Fishtail Mesas vegetation consists primarily of a Pinus edulis (pinyon) and Juniperus osteosperma (Utah juniper) woodland with an Artemisia tridentata (sagebrush) understory, or tree-type (310.9 ha), and an Artemisia and Poa fendleriana (mutton grass) steppe, or shrub-type (127.5 ha). Since 1958 vegetation changes in both shrub- and tree-types have been limited to only a few species. In the shrub-type we detected slight increases from 1958 to 1996 in both Pinus and Juniperus, and reexamination of 1958 photo sites confirmed that Pinus and Juniperus are reoccupying the shrub-type. Artemisia cover declined from 1958 to 1996, whereas Poa increased from near trace amounts in 1958 to moderate cover in 1996. In the tree-type, Poa has increased from 1958 to 1996, while Artemisia, Juniperus, and Pinus showed no apparent change. Other species such as Ephedra torreyana (Torrey joint-fir), Opuntia polyacantha (prickly pear), and Gutierrezia sarothrae (snakeweed) have decreased. Vegetation analysis aided by TWINSPAN revealed that the shrub-type is defined more on the basis of absence of Pinus and Juniperus rather than any special association of differential species with a high preference for this type. We interpret the "invasion" of the shrub-type by Pinus and Juniperus as a "reoccupation." Indirect ordination using DECORANA inferred 2 environmental gradients, a moisture gradient and perhaps a substrate texture gradient, that appeared to influence vegetation distribution on Fishtail Mesa. Fishtail Mesa is a valuable relict area for studying the effects of livestock grazing and prescribed fire. It should be designated a Federal Research Natural Area based on its vegetation communities, size, and protection afforded by its location in Grand Canyon National Park.
Rowlands, Peter G. and Brian, Nancy J.
"Fishtail Mesa: a vegetation resurvey of relict area in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 61
, Article 4.
Available at: https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol61/iss2/4