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Fire and Grazing Influence Site Resistance to Bromus tectorum Through Their Effects on Shrub, Bunchgrass and Biocrust Communities in the Great Basin (USA)

Abstract

Shrubs, bunchgrasses and biological soil crusts (biocrusts) are believed to contribute to site resistance to plant invasions in the presence of cattle grazing. Although fire is a concomitant disturbance with grazing, little is known regarding their combined impacts on invasion resistance. We are the first to date to test the idea that biotic communities mediate the effects of disturbance on site resistance. We assessed cover of Bromus tectorum, shrubs, native bunchgrasses, lichens and mosses in 99 burned and unburned plots located on similar soils where fires occurred between 12 and 23 years before sampling. Structural equation modeling was used to test hypothesized relationships between environmental and disturbance characteristics, the biotic community and resistance to B. tectorum cover. Characteristics of fire and grazing did not directly relate to cover of B. tectorum. Relationships were mediated through shrub, bunchgrass and biocrust communities. Increased site resistance following fire was associated with higher bunchgrass cover and recovery of bunchgrasses and mosses with time since fire. Evidence of grazing was more pronounced on burned sites and was positively correlated with the cover of B. tectorum, indicating an interaction between fire and grazing that decreases site resistance. Lichen cover showed a weak, negative relationship with cover of B. tectorum. Fire reduced near-term site resistance to B. tectorum on actively grazed rangelands. Independent of fire, grazing impacts resulted in reduced site resistance to B. tectorum, suggesting that grazing management that enhances plant and biocrust communities will also enhance site resistance.

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Acknowledgements

This project was funded by the US Geological Survey Coordinated Intermountain Restoration Project, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada State office, US Forest Service Fire Program, and Joint Fire Science Project Number 09-S-02-1. Authors thank D. Hernandez, D. Howard, S. Lynch, and L. McCaughey for help with data collection. T. Wirth and K. Knutson helped with the use of data from the larger study. M. Germino and D. Eldridge improved the manuscript. J. Grace and B. McCune provided advice on an earlier version of the analyses and manuscript. Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the US Government.

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Correspondence to Lea A. Condon.

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Data for this article can be found at https://doi.org/10.5066/F72Z14S7.

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Condon, L.A., Pyke, D.A. Fire and Grazing Influence Site Resistance to Bromus tectorum Through Their Effects on Shrub, Bunchgrass and Biocrust Communities in the Great Basin (USA). Ecosystems 21, 1416–1431 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-018-0230-8

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Keywords

  • biological soil crusts
  • gap size
  • Great Basin
  • lichens
  • mosses
  • sagebrush ecosystem
  • shrub–steppe
  • structural equation model