Repeated, high-severity wildfire catalyzes invasion of non-native plant species in forests of the Klamath Mountains, northern California, USA.
Non-native plant invasions are often catalyzed by wildfires and may alter the structure, function, and composition of ecosystems. Of particular concern are non-native annual grasses that promote increased fire frequency and compete with native vegetation for early season moisture. While these effects are well studied in non-forested ecosystems, relatively few studies document invasions of non-native annual grasses in forested ecosystems. We document non-native plant invasion following repeated high-severity wildfire in mixed-conifer/hardwood forests dominated by Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) in the Klamath Mountains of northern California. Despite great concern regarding the loss of conifer dominance and transitions to non-forested states related to recent and projected increases in wildfire activity, there is little known about invasions of non-native plant species following fire in this region. Non-native plant species capable of long-distance dispersal had an average total cover of 26% and were ubiquitous across a systematic, gridded sample of twenty 800 m2 plots. Non-native forbs included multiple species of common post-disturbance invaders (e.g. Cirsium vulgare, Senecio sylvaticus, Lactuca serriola). Non-native annual grasses comprised more of the vegetative cover than non-native forbs (17% vs. 9%), and were dominated by two species, Aira caryophyllea and Vulpia myuros, which reached as high as 80% cover. Our findings indicate that non-native annual grasses are a novel stressor that may accelerate projected loss of conifer dominance in the Klamath Mountains by facilitating fire spread and increasing competition for early season soil moisture. Additional monitoring will be crucial to understanding the impacts of non-native plants as fire activity in this region continues to increase.