Non-native plant removal and high rainfall years promote post-fire recovery of Artemisia californica in southern California sage scrub.
Non-native plant invasions, changes in fire regime, and increasing drought stress all pose important threats to biodiverse mediterranean-climate shrublands. These factors can also interact, with fire and drought potentially creating opportunities for non-native species to establish dominance before native shrubs recover. We carried out post-fire demographic monitoring of the common native shrub Artemisia californica in a southern California sage scrub fragment for 7 years, including several with very low rainfall. Experimental removals of non-native plants were included for the first 4 years. We quantified A. californica post-fire crown resprouting and seedling emergence, and tested effects of precipitation, non-native plants, and their interactions on seedling and adult survival. Only 7 A. californica were confirmed as resprouts; almost all individuals established after the fire from seedlings, with 90% of emergence occurring in the second growing year after fire (spring 2015). Higher spring precipitation increased both adult and seedling survival. Non-native grasses and forbs rapidly recolonized control plots, but the removal treatment reduced non-native cover by nearly 60%. For seedlings, non-native removal reduced the probability of dropping leaves by start of summer drought and increased survival both directly and through positive interactions with rainfall. Non-native removal also reduced mortality in smaller adult plants. By 2020, mean A. californica canopy area was nearly four times greater in non-native removal plots. These findings reinforce the high vulnerability of sage scrub habitat to post-fire loss of shrub cover and potential type conversion, particularly with increasing drought frequency and in stands and species with limited crown resprouting. Yet they also illustrate the potential for targeted management of non-natives immediately after fire to promote recovery of native shrubs in this increasingly endangered community.