, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 360–375 | Cite as

Resilience to Stress and Disturbance, and Resistance to Bromus tectorum L. Invasion in Cold Desert Shrublands of Western North America

  • Jeanne C. ChambersEmail author
  • Bethany A. Bradley
  • Cynthia S. Brown
  • Carla D’Antonio
  • Matthew J. Germino
  • James B. Grace
  • Stuart P. Hardegree
  • Richard F. Miller
  • David A. Pyke


Alien grass invasions in arid and semi-arid ecosystems are resulting in grass–fire cycles and ecosystem-level transformations that severely diminish ecosystem services. Our capacity to address the rapid and complex changes occurring in these ecosystems can be enhanced by developing an understanding of the environmental factors and ecosystem attributes that determine resilience of native ecosystems to stress and disturbance, and resistance to invasion. Cold desert shrublands occur over strong environmental gradients and exhibit significant differences in resilience and resistance. They provide an excellent opportunity to increase our understanding of these concepts. Herein, we examine a series of linked questions about (a) ecosystem attributes that determine resilience and resistance along environmental gradients, (b) effects of disturbances like livestock grazing and altered fire regimes and of stressors like rapid climate change, rising CO2, and N deposition on resilience and resistance, and (c) interacting effects of resilience and resistance on ecosystems with different environmental conditions. We conclude by providing strategies for the use of resilience and resistance concepts in a management context. At ecological site scales, state and transition models are used to illustrate how differences in resilience and resistance influence potential alternative vegetation states, transitions among states, and thresholds. At landscape scales management strategies based on resilience and resistance—protection, prevention, restoration, and monitoring and adaptive management—are used to determine priority management areas and appropriate actions.


environmental gradients ecosystem productivity plant traits altered fire regimes cheatgrass fundamental and realized niche management strategies state and transition models 



This manuscript was improved by review comments from Jayne Belnap, Cynthia Brown, James McIver, Mike Pellant, Stephen Hart, and two anonymous reviewers and benefited from discussions initiated through the Joint Fire Sciences Program, Sagebrush Treatment Evaluation Project (contribution 92), USDA AFRI REENet Project on Exotic Bromus Grasses in the Western US, and USGS Powell Center Workshop on Integrating Ecological Forecasting Methods to Improve Prioritization of Natural Resource Management: An Invasive Species Example.


  1. Abatzoglou JT, Kolden CA. 2011. Climate change in western US deserts: potential for increased wildfire and invasive annual grasses. Range Ecol Manage 64:471–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alexander EB, Mallory JI, Colwell WL. 1993. Soil–elevation relationships on a volcanic plateau in the southern Cascade Range, northern California, USA. Catena 20:113–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allen CR, Gunderson L, Johnson AR. 2005. The use of discontinuities and functional groups to assess relative resilience in complex systems. Ecosystems 8:958–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anderson JE, Inouye RS. 2001. Landscape-scale changes in plant species abundance and biodiversity of a sagebrush steppe over 45 years. Ecol Monogr 71:531–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Balch JK, Bradley BA, D’Antonio CM, Gomez-Dans J. 2012. Introduced annual grass increases regional fire activity across the arid western USA (1980–2009). Glob Chang Biol . doi: 10.1111/gcb.12046.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Beckstead J, Augspurger CK. 2004. An experimental test of resistance to cheatgrass invasion: limiting resources at different life stages. Biol Invasions 6:417–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Beisner BE, Haydon DT, Cuddington K. 2003. Alternative stable states in ecology. Front Ecol 1:376–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Belnap J. 1995. Surface disturbances: their role in accelerating desertification. Environ Monit Assess 37:39–57.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Blank RR, Allen FL, Young JA. 1996. Influence of simulated burning of soil litter from low sagebrush, squirreltail, cheatgrass, and medusahead sites on water-soluble anions and cations. Inter J Wildland Fire 6:137–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blank RS, Morgan T. 2012. Suppression of Bromus tectorum L. by established perennial grasses: potential mechanisms: part I. Appl Environ Soil Sci. doi: 10.1155/2012/632172.Google Scholar
  11. Booth MS, Caldwell MM, Stark JM. 2003. Overlapping resource use in three Great Basin species: implications for community invisibility and vegetation dynamics. J Ecol 91:36–48.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Bradley BA, Blumenthal DM, Wilcove DS, Ziska LH. 2010. Predicting plant invasions in an era of global change. Trends Ecol Evol 25:310–18.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bradley BA, Mustard JF. 2005. Identifying land cover variability distinct from land cover change: cheatgrass in the Great Basin. Rem Sensing Environ 94:204–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Bradley BA, Oppenheimer M, Wilcove DS. 2009. Climate change and plant invasions: restoration opportunities ahead? Glob Chang Biol 15:1511–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Briske DD, Fuhlendorf SD, Smeins FE. 2005. State-and-transition models, thresholds, rangeland health: a synthesis of ecological concepts and perspectives. Rangeland Ecol Manage 58:1–10.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Briske DD, Bestelmeyer BT, Stringham TK, Shaver PL. 2008. Recommendations for development of resilience-based state-and-transition models. Rangeland Ecol Manage 61:359–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Brooks ML, Chambers JC. 2011. Resistance to invasion and resilience to fire in desert shrublands of North America. Rangeland Ecol Manage 64:431–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brooks ML, D’Antonio CM, Richardson DM, Grace JB, Keeley JE, DiTomaso JM, Hobbs RJ, Pellant M, Pyke D. 2004. Effects of invasive alien plants on fire regimes. Bioscience 54:677–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Brooks ML, Minnich RA. 2006. Southeastern deserts bioregion. In: Sugihara NG, van Wagtendonk JW, Shaffer KE, Fites-Kaufman J, Thode AE, Eds. Fire in California’s ecosystems. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 391–414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Chambers JC, Linnerooth AR. 2001. Restoring riparian meadows currently dominated by Artemisia using alternative state concepts—the establishment component. Appl Veg Sci 4:157–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Chambers JC. 2005. Fire related restoration issues in woodland and rangeland ecosystems. In: Taylor, L, Zelnik, J, Cadwallader, S, Hughes, B, Eds. Mixed fire regimes: ecology and management. Symposium proceedings. Association of fire ecologists. MIXC03, Spokane. p. 149–160.Google Scholar
  22. Chambers JC, Roundy BA, Blank RR, Meyer SE, Whittaker A. 2007. What makes Great Basin sagebrush ecosystems invasible by Bromus tectorum? Ecol Monogr 77:117–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Chambers JC, Wisdom MJ. 2009. Priority research and management issues for the imperiled Great Basin of the western United States. Rest Ecol 17:707–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Chapin FSIII, Torn SE, Tateno M. 1996. Principles of ecosystem sustainability. Am Nat 148:1016–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Condon L, Weisberg PL, Chambers JC. 2011. Abiotic and biotic influences on Bromus tectorum invasion and Artemisia tridentata recovery after fire. Inter J Wildland Fire 20:1–8.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dahlgren RA, Boettinger JL, Huntington GL, Amundson RG. 1997. Soil development along an elevational transect in the western Sierra Nevada. Geoderma 78:207–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. D’Antonio CM, Thomsen M. 2004. Ecological resistance in theory and practice. Weed Tech 18:1572–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. D’Antonio CM, Vitousek PM. 1992. Biological invasions by exotic grasses, the grass/fire cycle, and global change. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 23:63–87.Google Scholar
  29. Davies GM, Bakker JD, Dettweiler-Robinson E, Dunwiddie PW, Hall SA, Downs J, Evans J. 2012. Trajectories of change in sagebrush-steppe vegetation communities in relation to multiple wildfires. Ecol Appl 22:1562–77.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Davies KF, Harrison S, Safford HD, Viers JH. 2007. Productivity alters the scale dependence of the diversity–invasibility relationship. Ecology 88:1940–7.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Davis MA, Grime JP, Thompson K. 2000. Fluctuating resources in plant communities: a general theory of invasibility. J Ecol 88:528–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Dobrowolski JP, Caldwell MM, Richards JR. 1990. Basin hydrology and plant root systems. In: Osmond CB, Pitelka LF, Hidy GM, Eds. Plant biology of the basin and range. Berlin: Springer. p. 243–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Drenovsky RE, Richards JH. 2004. Critical N:P values: predicting nutrient deficiencies in desert shrublands. Plant Soil 259:59–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Fenn ME, Baron JS, Allen EB, Rueth HM, Nydick KR, Geiser L, Bowman WD, Sickman JO, Meixner T, Johnson DW, Neitlich P. 2003. Ecological effects of nitrogen deposition in the Western United States. Bioscience 53:404–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Folke C, Carpenter S, Walker B, Scheffer M, Elmqvist T, Gunderson L, Holling CS. 2004. Regime shifts, resilience, and biodiversity in ecosystem management. Ann Rev Ecol Evol Syst 35:557–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Greaver TL, Sullivan TJ, Herrick JD et al. 2012. Ecological effects of nitrogen and sulfur air pollution in the US: what do we know? Front Ecol Environ 10:365–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hasselquist NJ, Germino MJ, Sankey JB, Ingram LJ, Glenn NF. 2011. Aeolian nutrient fluxes following wildfire in sagebrush steppe: implications for soil carbon storage. Biogeosciences Discuss 8:8323–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Haubensak K, D’Antonio C, Wilson D. 2009. Effects of fire and environmental variables on plant structure and composition in grazed salt desert shrublands of the Great Basin (USA). J Arid Environ 73:643–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Holling CS. 1973. Resilience and stability in ecological systems. Ann Rev Ecol Syst 4:1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hoover AN, Germino MJ. 2012. A common-garden study of resource-island effects on native and an exotic annual grass after fire. Rangeland Ecol Manage 65:160–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hutchinson GE. 1958. Concluding remarks. Cold spring harbor symposium. Quant Biol 22:415–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Jackson ST. 2006. Vegetation, environment, and time: the origination and termination of ecosystems. J Veg Sci 17:549–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. James JJ, Drenovsky RE, Monaco TA, Rinella MJ. 2011. Managing soil nitrogen to restore annual grass infested plant communities: effective strategy or incomplete framework? Ecol Appl 21:490–502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Johnson DD, Miller RF. 2006. Structure and development of expanding western juniper woodlands as influenced by two topographic variables. Forest Ecol Manage 229:7–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Knapp PA. 1996. Cheatgass (Bromus tectorum) dominance in the Great Basin Desert: history, influences, and persistence to human activities. Glob Environ Chang 6:37–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Knick ST, Connelly JW. 2011. Greater sage-grouse: ecology and conservation of a landscape species and its habitats. Studies in Avian Biology, Vol. 38. Berkeley, CA: University of California.Google Scholar
  47. Leffler AJ, Ryel RJ. 2012. Resource pool dynamics: conditions that regulate species interactions and dominance. In: Monaco, TA, Sheley RL, Eds. Invasive plant ecology and management. Linking processes to practice. Cambridge, MA: CAB International. p. 57–78.Google Scholar
  48. Littell JS, McKenzie D, Peterson DL, Westerling AL. 2009. Climate and wildfire area burned in the western U.S. ecoprovinces, 1916–2003. Ecol Appl 19:1003–21.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Merrill KR, Meyer SE, Coleman CE. 2012. Population genetic analysis of Bromus tectorum (Poaceae) indicates recent range expansion may be facilitated by specialist geonotypes. Am J Bot 99:529–37.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Meyer SE, Garvin SC, Beckstead J. 2001. Factors mediating cheatgrass invasion of intact salt desert shrubland. In: McArthur DE, Fairbanks DJ, Eds. Shrubland ecosystem genetics and biodiversity: proceedings. Proc RMRS-P-21. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 224–232.Google Scholar
  51. Miller RF, Knick ST, Pyke DA, Meinke CW, Hanser SE, Wisdom MJ, Hild AL. 2011. Characteristics of sagebrush habitats and limitations to long-term conservation. In: Knick ST, Connelly JW, Eds. Greater sage-grouse: ecology and conservation of a landscape species and its habitats. Studies in Avian Biology, Vol. 38. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 145–185.Google Scholar
  52. Miller RF, Chambers JC, Pyke DA, Pierson FB, Williams JC. 2013. A review of fire effects on vegetation and soils in the Great Basin region: response and site characteristics. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-308. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. p. 136Google Scholar
  53. Monaco TA, Sheley R. 2012. Invasive plant ecology and management: linking processes to practice (CABI Invasives Series). Oxfordshire: CABI.Google Scholar
  54. Monsen SB, Stevens R, Shaw NL. 2004. Restoring Western Ranges and Wildlands. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-1136-vol-1, 2, and 3. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 294+ index.Google Scholar
  55. Neary DG, Klopatek CC, DeBano LF, Ffolliot PF. 1999. Fire effects on belowground sustainability: a review and synthesis. For Ecol Manage 122:51–71.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nowak RS, Ellsworth DS, Smith SD. 2004. Functional responses of plants to elevated atmospheric CO2: do photosynthetic and productivity data from FACE experiments support early predictions? New Phyt 162:253–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Pausas JG, Bradstock RA. 2007. Fire persistence traits of plants along a productivity and disturbance gradient in Mediterranean shrublands of south-east Australia. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 16:330–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Peterson G, Allen CR, Holling CS. 1998. Ecological resilience, biodiversity, and scale. Ecosystems 1:6–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Polley HW, Morgan JA, Fay PA. 2011. Application of a conceptual framework to interpret variability in rangeland responses to atmospheric CO2 enrichment. J Agr Sci 149:1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Prevey JS, Germino MJ, Huntley NJ, Inouye RS. 2010. Exotic plants increase and native plants decrease with loss of foundation species in sagebrush steppe. Plant Ecol 207:39–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Pyke DA. 2011. Restoring and rehabilitating sagebrush habitats. In: Knick ST, Connelly JW, Eds. Greater sage-grouse: ecology and conservation of a landscape species and its habitats. Studies in Avian Biology, Vol. 38. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 531–548.Google Scholar
  62. Ramakrishnan AP, Meyer SE, Fairbanks DJ, Coleman CE. 2006. Ecological significance of microsatellite variation in western North American populations of Bromus tectorum. Plant Species Biol 21:61–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Reisner MD, Grace JB, Pyke DA, Doescher PS. 2013. Conditions favoring Bromus tectorum dominance of endangered sagebrush steppe ecosystems. J App Ecol. doi: 10.1111/1365-2664.12097.Google Scholar
  64. Rejmanek M. 1989. Invasibility of plant communities. In: Drake JA, Di Castri F, Groves RH, Kruger FJ, Mooney HA, Rejmanek M, Williamson MH, Eds. Ecology of biological invasion: a global perspective. New York, NY: Wiley. p. 369–88.Google Scholar
  65. Ryel RJ, Leffler AJ, Ivans C, Peek MS, Caldwell MM. 2010. Functional differences in water-use patterns of contrasting life forms in Great Basin steppelands. Vadose Zone J 9:1–13. doi: 10.2136/vzj2010.0022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sankey JB, Germino MJ, Glenn NF. 2009. Aeolian sediment transport following wildfire in sagebrush steppe. J Arid Environ 73:912–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Schwinning S, Starr BI, Wojcik NJ, Miller ME, Ehleringer JE, Sanford RL Jr. 2005. Effects of nitrogen deposition on an arid grassland in the Colorado Plateau cold desert. Rangeland Ecol Manage 58:565–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Seager R, Ting MF, Held I, Kushnir Y et al. 2007. Model projections of an imminent transition to a more arid climate in southwestern North America. Science 316:1181–4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Seastedt TR, Hobbs RJ, Suding KN. 2008. Management of novel ecosystems: are novel approaches required? Front Ecol Environ 6:547–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Seefeldt SS, Germino M, DiCristina K. 2007. Prescribed fires in Artemisia tridentata ssp. vaseyana steppe have minor and transient effects on vegetation cover and composition. Appl Veg Sci 10:249–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Smith SD, Strain BR, Sharkey TD. 1987. Effects of CO2 enrichment on four Great Basin grasses. Funct Ecol 1:139–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Smith SD, Nowak RS. 1990. Ecophysiology of plants in the Intermountain lowlands. In: Osmond CB, Pitelka LF, Hidy GM, Eds. Plant biology of the basin and range. Berlin: Springer. p. 179–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Stringham TK, Krueger WC, Shaver PL. 2003. State and transition modeling: an ecological process approach. J Range Manage 56:106–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Stubbs MM, Pyke DA. 2005. Available nitrogen: a time-based study of manipulated resource islands. Plant Soil 270:123–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. US Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Global Monitoring Division. 2012. Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.
  76. US Department of Interior. 2010. Endangered and threatened wildlife and plants; 12-month findings for petitions to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. Federal Register 75:13910–58.Google Scholar
  77. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2013. Ecological Site Descriptions.
  78. West NE. 1983a. Intermountain salt-desert shrubland. In: West NE, Ed. Temperate deserts and semi-deserts. Amsterdam: Elsevier. p. 375–8.Google Scholar
  79. West NE. 1983b. Great Basin-Colorado Plateau sagebrush semi-desert. In: West NE, Ed. Temperate deserts and semi-deserts. Amsterdam: Elsevier. p. 331–50.Google Scholar
  80. West NE, Yorks TP. 2002. Vegetation responses following wildfire on grazed and ungrazed sagebrush semi-desert. J Range Manage 55:171–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Westerling AL, Hidalgo HG, Cayan DR, Swetnam TW. 2006. Warming and earlier spring increase U.S. forest wildfire activity. Science 313:940–3.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Wilcox BP, Turnbill L, Young MH, Williams CJ, Ravi S, Syfried MS, Bowling DR, Scott RL, Germino MJ, Caldwell TG, Wainwright J. 2012. Invasion of shrublands by exotic grasses: ecohydrological consequences in cold versus warm deserts. Ecohydrology 5:160–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Williams JW, Jackson ST. 2007. Novel climates, no-analog communities, and ecological surprises. Front Ecol Environ 5:475–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeanne C. Chambers
    • 1
    Email author
  • Bethany A. Bradley
    • 2
  • Cynthia S. Brown
    • 3
  • Carla D’Antonio
    • 4
  • Matthew J. Germino
    • 5
  • James B. Grace
    • 6
  • Stuart P. Hardegree
    • 7
  • Richard F. Miller
    • 8
  • David A. Pyke
    • 9
  1. 1.US Forest ServiceRocky Mountain Research StationRenoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural Resources ConservationUniversity of MassachusettsAmherstUSA
  3. 3.Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest ManagementColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ecology, Evolution and Marine BiologyUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  5. 5.US Geological SurveyForest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science CenterBoiseUSA
  6. 6.US Geological SurveyNational Wetlands Research CenterLafayetteUSA
  7. 7.USDA Agricultural Research ServiceNorthwest Research CenterBoiseUSA
  8. 8.Department of Range Ecology and ManagementOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  9. 9.US Geological SurveyForest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science CenterCorvallisUSA

Personalised recommendations