The coyote brush invasion of southern California grasslands and the legacy of mechanical disturbance.
This study investigates the recent invasion of exotic grasslands by coyote brush in La Jolla Valley, California. We test the "event dependent" hypothesis that mechanical disturbances during the past century were a key cause. To examine the relationship between past mechanical disturbances and vegetation dynamics we first conducted a review of the historical literature on practices of shrub removal and documented disturbance history using historical imagery. We next analyzed vegetation-cover change over time using remotely sensed imagery and a vegetation map to document the history of native shrub advancement into exotic grassland by species association. Finally, we determined the topographic characteristics associated with different phases of shrub advancement. We found that mechanical disturbances historically varied by topography with upper and steeper slopes being least intensively disturbed. We found that shrub advancement rates, following release from grazing, varied by slope, elevation, and time period, and that Baccharis pilularis (coyote brush) was the main species to invade the more intensively disturbed sites at lower elevations. Our results indicate that mechanical disturbances played an important role in modifying the original vegetation cover with long-lasting consequences, including a facilitating role for the subsequent Baccharis pilularis invasion. We concluded that the practice of grazing often included exotic mechanical disturbances that had long-lasting impacts on native plants.