Loss of biotic resistance and high propagule pressure promote invasive grass-fire cycles.
1. The spread of invasive grasses across Earth are modifying fire cycles resulting in state changes in arid ecosystems. Disturbance, biotic resistance of native biological communities and propagule pressure, are likely the important factors influencing the spread of invasive grasses and their influence on changing fire regimes. 2. Over a 5-year period (2011-2016), we tested how the potential loss of biotic resistance of native plant and native rodent communities related to fire and rodent exclusion treatments, in concert with increased propagule pressure affected the establishment of Bromus tectorum L. (cheatgrass) and the spread of secondary fires. 3. Our study results suggest that native plant and native rodent communities contribute to biotic resistance against cheatgrass invasion and that fire and high propagule pressure act to diminish biotic resistance by native communities. Five years into the study, cheatgrass establishment was 11-fold greater in burned plots than in unburned plots (with native plant communities still intact), 2.4-fold greater in rodent exclusion plots than rodent access plots and 1.8-fold greater with increased propagule pressure. At the start of the experiment in 2011 cheatgrass was present in the experimental blocks but at very low density (<1 plant/m2). However, by 2016, burned-rodent excluded plots were fully invaded (1625 stems/m2). High propagule pressure released cheatgrass from biotic resistance of rodent communities in post-fire conditions but had minimal effects on the biotic resistance of native plant communities in unburned plots. Fire in combination with either rodent exclusion or high cheatgrass propagule pressure produced higher density cheatgrass stands that were positively correlated with the spread of secondary fires that are characteristic of invasive grass-fire cycles. 4. Synthesis . Loss of native plant cover or reduction in rodent populations due to fire, extreme climatic events or disease outbreaks, which are increasing with human activity, may provide windows of opportunity for invasive grasses to escape biotic resistance and reinforce invasive grass-fire cycles.