Drivers of Bromus tectorum Abundance in the Western North American Sagebrush Steppe
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Bromus tectorum can transform ecosystems causing negative impacts on the ecological and economic values of sagebrush steppe of the western USA. Although our knowledge of the drivers of the regional distribution of B. tectorum has improved, we have yet to determine the relative importance of climate and local factors causing B. tectorum abundance and impact. To address this, we sampled 555 sites distributed geographically and ecologically throughout the sagebrush steppe. We recorded the canopy cover of B. tectorum, as well as local substrate and vegetation characteristics. Boosted regression tree modeling revealed that climate strongly limits the transformative ability of B. tectorum to a portion of the sagebrush steppe with dry summers (that is, July precipitation <10 mm and the driest annual quarter associated with a mean temperature >15°C) and low native grass canopy cover. This portion includes the Bonneville, Columbia, Lahontan, and lower Snake River basins. These areas are likely to require extreme efforts to reverse B. tectorum transformation. Our predictions, using future climate conditions, suggest that the transformative ability of B. tectorum may not expand geographically and could remain within the same climatically suitable basins. We found B. tectorum in locally disturbed areas within or adjacent to all of our sample sites, but not necessarily within sagebrush steppe vegetation. Conversion of the sagebrush steppe by B. tectorum, therefore, is more likely to occur outside the confines of its current climatically optimal region because of site-specific disturbances, including invasive species control efforts and sagebrush steppe mismanagement, rather than climate change.
Keywordscheatgrass climate disturbance fire native grass abundance sagebrush biome
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