Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Abstract

Effects of recent wildfires in piñon-juniper woodlands of Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, USA.

Abstract

Pinus edulis-Juniperus osteosperma (piñon-juniper) woodlands in the southwestern United States are of high conservation value and are threatened by changing climate and increasing frequency of large, severe fires. We followed vegetation development after three recent fires (1989, 1996, and 2000) in Mesa Verde National Park (MEVE). Two types of piñon-juniper vegetation are found in MEVE: sprouting woodlands (SPW), dominated by species that resprout after injury, and obligate seeding woodlands (OSW), dominated by non-sprouting species. SPW stands showed greater resilience than OSW in terms of recovery of pre-fire structure and species composition, and vulnerability to invasion by nonnative plant species. After all three fires, plant cover increased more rapidly in SPW stands; all major pre-fire species were present within 2 y, and fewer nonnative species became established. Plant cover developed more slowly in OSW stands; nonnative plant species proliferated, in places being more abundant than the newly germinating native species. No reestablishment of piñon or juniper trees has been observed. If current trends persist, some portions of the burned SPW may be converted to a persistent shrubland type, while much of the burned OSW may be converted to a persistent, novel herbaceous vegetation type with a large component of nonnative species. Similar changes after fire can be expected in piñon-juniper woodlands like those in MEVE, which are widely distributed throughout the region.