Persistence of desertified ecosystems: Explanations and implications
- Cite this article as:
- Whitford, W.G., Martinez-Turanzas, G. & Martinez-Meza, E. Environ Monit Assess (1995) 37: 319. doi:10.1007/BF00546898
Studies of rainfall partitioning by shrubs, responses of shrub-dominated ecosystems to herbicide treatment, and experiments using drought and supplemental rainfall were conducted to test the hypothesis that the shrub-dominated ecosystems that have replaced desert grasslands are resistant and resilient to disturbance. Between 16 and 25% of the intercepted rainfall is channelized to deep soil storage by stemflow and root channelization. Stemflow water is nutrient enriched and contributes to the “islands of fertility” that develop under desert shrubs. Drought and rainfall augmentation experiments during the growing season after 5 consecutive years of summer drought found that (1) growth of creosotebushes, Larrea tridentata, was not significantly affected, (2) perennial grasses and forbs disappeared on droughted plots, (3) nitrogen mineralization increased in the short term, and (4) densities and biomass of spring annual plants increased on the droughted plots. Doubling summer rainfall for 5 consecutive years had less-significant effects. Coppice dunes treated with herbicide in 1979 to kill mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) had the same frequency of occurrence of the shrub as the untreated dunes when remeasured in 1993. These data indicate that the shrub-dominated ecosystems persist because they are resistant and resilient to climatic and anthropogenic stresses.