Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Wildfire and exotic grass invasion alter plant productivity in response to climate variability in the Mojave Desert.

Abstract

Context: Annual grass invasions often increase the frequency and extent of wildfire. Climate variability and fire history may have modifying effects on invasion success and its link to changing fire regimes. Objective: Characterize the role of climate variability and fire history in vegetation shifts of an invaded desert landscape. Method: Pre- and post-fire landscape vegetation greenness were assessed on multiple, independent wildfires in Mojave Desert shrublands using a 34 year record of normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) derived from 1685 Landsat images and matched with a record of precipitation using linear regression. Results: Annual maximum NDVI, and its annual variance of monthly maximum values, were significantly higher on post-fire than pre-fire landscapes. Additionally, post-fire landscapes showed greater sensitivity to antecedent precipitation received the previous 4 months than pre-fire and unburned landscapes. Ground surveys of vegetation indicate that post-fire landscapes show little indication of recovery of native shrub cover and density but instead are dominated by the exotic grass red brome (Bromus rubens L.). Increased NDVI sensitivity to precipitation is likely related to the growth of red brome, which dominates burned landscapes. Record precipitation in the fall of 2004 contributed to the record NDVI values in 2005 likely driven by high density of red brome. Conclusions: The heightened response of post-fire vegetation to extreme and more variable precipitation events appears to be contributing to the emergence of an invasive grass-fire cycle that constrains the re-establishment of fire sensitive native shrubs while reinforcing the dominance of exotic grasses.