Ecosystems

, Volume 12, Issue 3, pp 434–444 | Cite as

Post-Fire Resource Redistribution in Desert Grasslands: A Possible Negative Feedback on Land Degradation

  • Sujith Ravi
  • Paolo D’Odorico
  • Lixin Wang
  • Carleton S. White
  • Gregory S. Okin
  • Stephen A. Macko
  • Scott L. Collins
Article

Abstract

Desert grasslands, which are very sensitive to external drivers like climate change, are areas affected by rapid land degradation processes. In many regions of the world the common form of land degradation involves the rapid encroachment of woody plants into desert grasslands. This process, thought to be irreversible and sustained by biophysical feedbacks of global desertification, results in the heterogeneous distribution of vegetation and soil resources. Most of these shrub-grass transition systems at the desert margins are prone to disturbances such as fires, which affect the interactions between ecological, hydrological, and land surface processes. Here we investigate the effect of prescribed fires on the landscape heterogeneity associated with shrub encroachment. Replicated field manipulation experiments were conducted at a shrub-grass transition zone in the northern Chihuahuan desert (New Mexico, USA) using a combination of erosion monitoring techniques, microtopography measurements, infiltration experiments, and isotopic studies. The results indicate that soil erosion is more intense in burned shrub patches compared to burned grass patches and bare interspaces. This enhancement of erosion processes, mainly aeolian, is attributed to the soil–water repellency induced by the burning shrubs, which alters the physical and chemical properties of the soil surface. Further, we show that by enhancing soil erodibility fires allow erosion processes to redistribute resources accumulated by the shrub clumps, thereby leading to a more homogeneous distribution of soil resources. Thus fires counteract or diminish the heterogeneity-forming dynamics of land degradation associated with shrub encroachment by enhancing local-scale soil erodibility.

Key words

land degradation drylands soil erosion fire water repellency shrub encroachment 

References

  1. Allen AP, Pockman WT, Restrepo C, Milne BT. 2008. Allometry, growth and population regulation of the desert shrub Larrea tridentata. Funct Ecol 22: 197–204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Archer S. 1989. Have southern Texas savannas been converted to woodlands in recent history. American Naturalist 134:545–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Archer S, Schimel DS, Holland EA. 1995. Mechanisms of shrubland expansion—land-use, climate or CO2. Clim Change 29:91–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baez S, Collins SL. 2008. Shrub invasion decreases diversity and alters community stability in Northern Chihuahuan desert plant communities. PLoS ONE 3(6):e2332.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baez S, Collins SL, Lightfoot D, Koontz T. 2006. Effects of rodent removal on community dynamics in desert grassland and shrubland vegetation. Ecology 87: 2746–2754.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Belnap J, Gillette DA. 1998. Vulnerability of desert soil surfaces to wind erosion: the influence of crust development, soil texture and disturbance. Journal of Arid Environments 39: 133–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Breshears DD, Whicker JJ, Johansen MP, Pinder JE. 2003. Wind and water erosion and transport in semi-arid shrubland, grassland and forest ecosystems: quantifying dominance of horizontal wind-driven transport. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 28:1189–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Buffington LC, Herbel CH. 1965. Vegetational changes on a semidesert grassland range from 1858 to 1963. Ecological Monographs 35:139–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cabral AC, De Miguel JM, Rescia AJ, Schmitz MF, Pineda FD. 2003. Shrub encroachment in Argentinean savannas. Journal of Vegetation Science 14:145–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Charley JL, West NE. 1975. Plant-induced soil chemical patterns in some shrub-dominated semi-desert ecosystems of Utah. Journal of Ecology 63:945–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cornelis WM, Gabriels D, Hartmann R. 2004. A conceptual model to predict the deflation threshold shear velocity as affected by near-surface soil water: I Theory. Soil Science Society of America Journal 68(4):1154– 1161.Google Scholar
  12. Daily GC. 1995. Restoring value to the worlds degraded lands. Science 269:350–54.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Doerr SH. 1998. On standardizing the ‘water drop penetration time’ and the ‘molarity of an ethanol droplet’ techniques to classify soil hydrophobicity: a case study using medium textured soils. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 23(7):663–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Doerr SH, Shakesby RA, Walsh RPD. 2000. Soil water repellency: its causes, characteristics and hydro-geomorphological significance. Earth-Sci Rev 51:33–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dregne HE. 2002. Land degradation in the drylands. Arid Land Research and Management 16:99–132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Fensham RJ, Fairfax RJ, Archer SR. 2005. Rainfall, land use and woody vegetation cover change in semi-arid Australian savanna. Journal of Ecology 93:596–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fryrear DW. 1986. A field dust sampler. J Soil Water Conserv 41:117–120.Google Scholar
  18. Giglio L, Csiszar I, Justice CO. 2006. Global distribution and seasonality of active fires as observed with the Terra and Aqua Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensors. Journal of Geophysical Research-Biogeosciences 111: G02016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gillette DA, Stockton PH. 1986. Mass momentum and kinetic energy fluxes of saltating particles. Nickling WG, editor. Aeolian Geomorphology. Allen and Unwin: Boston. p35–56.Google Scholar
  20. Gillette DA, Pitchford AM. 2004. Sand flux in the northern Chihuahuan desert, New Mexico, USA, and the influence of mesquite-dominated landscapes. Journal of Geophysical Research-Earth Surface 109(F4): F04003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Goldammer JG, de Ronde C. 2004. Wildland Fire Management Handbook for Sub-Sahara Africa. Global Fire Monitoring Center (GFMC).Google Scholar
  22. He X, Bledsoe CS, Zasoki RJ, Southworth D, Horwath WR. 2006. Rapid nitrogen transfer from ectomycorrhizal pines to adjacent ectomycorrhizal and arbuscular mycorrhizal plants in a California oak woodland. New Phytologist 170: 143–151.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hibbard KA, Archer S, Schimel DS, Valentine DW. 2001. Biogeochemical changes accompanying woody plant encroachment in a subtropical savanna. Ecology 82:1999–2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Huenneke LF, Anderson JP, Remmenga M, Schlesinger WH. 2002. Desertification alters patterns of aboveground net primary production in Chihuahuan ecosystems. Global Chang Biol 8(3): 247–264.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Hui WJ, Cook BI, Ravi S, Fuentes JD, D’Odorico P. 2008. Dust-rainfall feedbacks in the West African Sahel. Water Resources Research 44: W05202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Huxman TE, Wilcox BP, Scott RL, Snyder K, Hultine K, Small E, Breshears DD, Pockman W, Jackson RB. 2005. Ecohydrological implications of woody plant encroachment. Ecology 86:308–319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kieft TL, White CS, Loftin SR, Aguilar R, Craig JA, Skaar DA. 1998. Temporal dynamics in soil carbon and nitrogen resources at a grassland-shrubland ecotone. Ecology 79(2): 671–683.Google Scholar
  28. Li J, Okin GS, Hartman LJ, Epstein HE. 2007. Quantitative assessment of wind erosion and soil nutrient loss in desert grasslands of southern New Mexico, USA. Biogeochemistry 85(3): 317–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Li J, Okin GS, Alvarez LJ, Epstein HE. 2008. Effects of wind erosion on the spatial heterogeneity of soil nutrients in two desert grassland communities. Biogeochemistry 88(1): 73–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lu H, Shao Y. 1999. A new model for dust emission by saltation bombardment. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres 104: 16827–16841.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McKenna Neuman C. 2003. Effects of temperature and humidity upon the entrainment of sedimentary particles by wind, Boundary Layer Meteorology. 108: 61– 89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. McLaughlin SP, Bowers JE. 1982. Effects of wildfire on a Sonoran desert plant community. Ecology 63(1): 246–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. MEA. 2005. Millennium ecosystem assessment: ecosystems and human well-being: desertification synthesis. Washington, DC: World Resources InstituteGoogle Scholar
  34. Nicholson S. 2000. Land surface processes and Sahel climate. Reviews of Geophysics 38:117–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Nicholson SE, Tucker CJ, Ba MB. 1998. Desertification, drought, and surface vegetation: an example from the West African Sahel. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society 79:815–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Okin GS, Gillette DA. 2001. Distribution of vegetation in wind-dominated landscapes: implications for wind erosion modeling and landscape processes. Journal of Geophysical Research 106(9):9673–9683.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Parsons AJ, Abrahams AD, Wainwright J. 1996. Responses of interrill runoff and erosion rates to vegetation change in southern Arizona. Geomorphology, 14(4): 311–317.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ravi S, D’Odorico P. 2008. Post-fire resource redistribution and fertility island dynamics in shrub encroached desert grasslands: a modeling approach. Landscape Ecol. DOI: 10.1007/s10980-008-9307-7.Google Scholar
  39. Ravi S, D’Odorico P, Herbert B, Zobeck TM, Over TM. 2006. Enhancement of wind erosion by fire-induced water repellency. Water Resources Research 42: W11422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Ravi S, D’Odorico P, Okin GS. 2007a. Hydrologic and aeolian controls on vegetation patterns in arid landscapes. Geophys Res Lett 34:L24S23Google Scholar
  41. Ravi S, D’Odorico P, Zobeck TM, Over TM, Collins SL. 2007b. Feedbacks between fires and wind erosion in heterogeneous arid lands. J Geophys Res 112:G04007Google Scholar
  42. Reich P, Eswaran H, Kapur S, Akca E. 2000. Land degradation and desertification in desert margins. International symposium on desertification. (Available online http://www.toprak.org.tr/isd/isd). Accessed Jan 2008
  43. Roques KG, O’Connor TG, Watkinson AR. 2001. Dynamics of shrub encroachment in an African savanna: relative influences of fire, herbivory, rainfall and density dependence. Journal of Applied Ecology 38:268–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schlesinger WH, Pilmanis AM. 1998. Plant-soil interactions in deserts. Biogeochemistry 42:169–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schlesinger WH, Reynolds JF, Cunningham GL, Huenneke LF, Jarrell WM, Virginia RA, Whitford WG. 1990. Biological feedbacks in global desertification. Science 247:1043–48.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Schlesinger WH, Abrahams AD, Parsons AJ, Wainwright J., 1999. Nutrient losses in runoff from grassland and shrubland habitats in Southern New Mexico: I. rainfall simulation experiments. Biogeochemistry 45: 21–34.Google Scholar
  47. Singh JS, Joshi MC. 1979. Ecology of semi-arid regions of India with emphasis on landuse. Walker BJ, editor. Management of semi-Arid Ecosystems. Elsevier Amsterdam. p243- 276.Google Scholar
  48. Stout JE, Zobeck TM. 1997. Intermittent saltation. Sedimentology 44:959–970.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Trollope WSW. 1996. Behaviour, effects and use of fire in the savannas of southern Africa. In: Grice TC, Slatter SM, Eds. Fire in the management of northern Australian pastoral lands. Proceedings of the tropical grassland society of Australia, vol 8. p 9–23Google Scholar
  50. UNCCD. 1994. United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification: elaboration of an international convention to combat desertification in countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa. U.N. Doc.A/AC.241/27, 33 I.L.M. 1328Google Scholar
  51. Van Auken OW. 2000. Shrub invasions of North American semiarid grasslands. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 31:197–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. van Langevelde F, van de Vijver C, Kumar L, van de Koppel J, de Ridder N, van Andel J, Skidmore AK, Hearne JW, Stroosnijder L, Bond WJ, Prins HHT, Rietkerk M. 2003. Effects of fire and herbivory on the stability of savanna ecosystems. Ecology 84:337–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. van Wilgen BW, Trollope WSW, Biggs HC, Potgieter ALF, Brockett BH. 2003. Fire as a Driver of Ecosystem Variability. Du Toit JT, Rogers KH, Biggs HC, editors. The Kruger experience: ecology and management of savanna heterogeneity. Island Press Washington D.C. p149–170.Google Scholar
  54. Wainwright J, Parsons AJ, Abrahams AD. 2000. Plot-scale studies of vegetation, overland flow and erosion interactions: case studies from Arizona and New Mexico. Hydrological Processes 14(16–17): 2921–2943.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wang L, Mou PP, Jones RH. 2006. Nutrient foraging via physiological and morphological plasticity in three plant species. Canadian Journal of Forest Research-Revue Canadienne De Recherche Forestiere 36:164–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wang L, Okin GS, Wang J, Epstein H, Macko SA. 2007. Predicting leaf and canopy 15N compositions from reflectance spectra. Geophysical Research Letters 34:L02401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Whicker JJ, Breshears DD, Wasiolek PT, Kirchner TB, Tavani RA, Schoep DA, Rodgers JC. 2002. Temporal and spatial variation of episodic wind erosion in unburned and burned semiarid shrubland. Journal of Environmental Quality 31: 599–612.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. White CS, Loftin SR. 2000. Response of 2 semiarid grasslands to cool-season prescribed fire. Journal of Range Management 53:52–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. White CS, Pendleton RL, Pendleton BK. 2006. Response of two semiarid grasslands to a second fire application. Rangeland Ecology and Management 53:52– 61.Google Scholar
  60. Williams RJ, Cook GD, Gill AM, Moore PHR. 2002. Fire regime, fire intensity and tree survival in a tropical savanna in Northern Australia. Australian Journal of Ecology 24(1): 50–59.Google Scholar
  61. Yoneyama T, Matsumaru T, Usui K, Engelaar W. 2001. Discrimination of nitrogen isotopes during absorption of ammonium and nitrate at different nitrogen concentrations by rice (Oryza sativa L.) plants. Plant Cell and Environment 24:133–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Zhang RD. 1997. Determination of soil sorptivity and hydraulic conductivity from the disk infiltrometer. Soil Science Society of America Journal 61(4):1024–1030.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sujith Ravi
    • 1
  • Paolo D’Odorico
    • 2
  • Lixin Wang
    • 3
  • Carleton S. White
    • 4
  • Gregory S. Okin
    • 5
  • Stephen A. Macko
    • 2
  • Scott L. Collins
    • 4
  1. 1.B2 Earthscience & UA Biosphere 2University of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental SciencesUniversity of VirginiaCharlottesvilleUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA
  4. 4.Department of BiologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

Personalised recommendations