Developing an expert elicited simulation model to evaluate invasive species and fire management alternatives.
Invasive species can alter ecosystem properties and cause state shifts in landscapes. Resource managers charged with maintaining landscapes require tools to understand implications of alternative actions (or inactions) on landscape structure and function. Simulation models can serve as a virtual laboratory to explore these alternatives and their potential impacts on a landscape. To be useful, however, managers need to participate in model development to ensure that model structure can evaluate the response of key resources to plausible actions. Here, we detail development of a state-and-transition simulation model (STSM) to evaluate buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliaris L. syn Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link) in Saguaro National Park (SNP), Arizona, USA, through collaboration between managers and researchers. We integrate expert knowledge and research to create and parameterize a stochastic, spatially explicit STSM to evaluate specific management objectives. We also develop a dynamic link between the STSM and a fire behavior model to allow exploration of potential novel processes introduced to the ecosystem by buffelgrass invasion. Our projections show that buffelgrass can be expected to increase on the landscape and that the integration of fire into the model accelerates the projected rate of invasion and increases degradation of resources of management concern. We highlight the benefit of engaging end users in the modeling process so that the model is targeted to evaluate management objectives, in this case retention of saguaro cacti (Carnegiea gigantea (Engelm.) Britton & Rose) on the landscape. Being able to integrate an external model that can help address the unique characteristics of a problem such as the introduction of fire into the SNP desert ecosystem increases the ability of simulations to address complex ecological and management questions.