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Effects of an invasive plant on a desert sand dune landscape

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Abstract

Given the abundance of non-native species invading wildland habitats, managers need to employ informed triage to focus control efforts on weeds with the greatest potential for negative impacts. Our objective here was to determine the level of threat Sahara mustard, Brassica tournefortii, represents to meeting regional goals for protecting biodiversity. Sahara mustard has spread throughout much of the Mojave and lower Sonoran Deserts. It has occurred in southern California’s Coachella Valley for nearly 80 years, punctuated by years of extremely high abundance following high rainfall. In those years the mustard has clear negative impacts on the native flora. Using mustard removal experiments we identified reductions in native plant reproduction, shifting composition increasingly toward Sahara mustard while decreasing the fraction of native species. High between-year variance in precipitation may be a key to maintaining biodiversity as the mustard is less abundant in drier years. Sahara mustard impacts to the native fauna were much less evident. Of the animal species evaluated, only the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, Uma inornata, demonstrated a negative response to mustard abundance; however the impacts were short-lived, lasting no more than a year after the mustard’s dominance waned. Without control measures the long-term impacts to desert biodiversity may rest on the changing climate. Wetter conditions or increased periodicity of high rainfall years will favor Sahara mustard and result in reduced biodiversity, especially of native annual plants. Drier conditions will keep the mustard from becoming dominant but may have other negative consequences on the native flora and fauna.

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Acknowledgments

This research was funded through a grant from the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management Program, the California Department of Fish and Game through the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and U.C. Riverside’s Center for Conservation Biology. K. Nicol, B. Johnson and J. Sullivan helped secure grant funds. Mustard weeding was conducted by volunteers from the Bureau of Land Management and California State Parks, and by R. Steers, D. Hutchinson, K. Fleming. D. Hutchinson, K. Fleming and D. Thomas helped collect field data.

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Correspondence to Cameron W. Barrows.

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Barrows, C.W., Allen, E.B., Brooks, M.L. et al. Effects of an invasive plant on a desert sand dune landscape. Biol Invasions 11, 673–686 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-008-9282-6

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-008-9282-6

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