Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Mesquite Recruitment in the Chihuahuan Desert: Historic and Prehistoric Patterns with Long-Term Impacts

Authors
item Frederickson, Eddie
item Estell, Richard
item Laliberte, Andrea
item Anderson, Dean

Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: October 31, 2005
Publication Date: December 13, 2005
Citation: Fredrickson, E.L., Estell, R.E., Laliberte, A., Anderson, D.M. 2006. Mesquite recruitment in the Chihuahuan Desert: Historic and prehistoric patterns with long-term impacts. Journal of Arid Environments. 65(2):285-295.

Interpretive Summary: Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) has increased in dominance over large areas of the Chihuahuan Desert, chiefly at the expense of once expansive desert grasslands. Excessive grazing and seed dissemination by livestock are often cited as the cause of this transition. We propose an alternate hypothesis that expansion of mesquite is not simply due to cause and effect relationships during recent history; rather, mesquite expansion is a result of a series of cause and effect relationships that transpired over a much longer timeframe (centuries). We assert that mesquite expansion may have ultimately occurred in the absence of widespread livestock grazing during the last 130 years because of removal of barriers to mesquite expansion created by Pleistocene megafauna and indigenous peoples. In this hypothesis, the ever present potential for mesquite expansion was kept at bay by chronic use of this plant by large browsers and indigenous peoples. Loss of these control mechanisms resulted in an expansion of mesquite dominance that was later accelerated by introduction of large herds of beef cattle that dispersed mesquite seed. Based on this understanding, we believe present day control must also be chronic and take into account seed dispersal. Effective management of invasive species must consider the historic and prehistoric legacy of the plant in question.

Technical Abstract: Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) has increased in dominance over large areas of the Chihuahuan Desert, chiefly at the expense of once expansive desert grasslands. Excessive grazing and seed dissemination by livestock are often cited as the cause of this transition. We propose an alternate hypothesis that expansion of mesquite is not simply due to cause and effect relationships during recent history; rather, mesquite expansion is a result of a series of cause and effect relationships that transpired over a much longer timeframe (centuries). We assert that mesquite expansion may have ultimately occurred in the absence of widespread livestock grazing during the last 130 years because of removal of barriers to mesquite expansion created by Pleistocene megafauna and indigenous peoples. We explore factors that attenuate or intensify mesquite expansion and examine how a series of fine=scale, but temporally seminal, events can propagate across multiple scales. Furthermore, we examine the relevance of this hypothesis for present day remediation of shrub-dominated grasslands and conclude that knowledge of historic and prehistoric events and processes are essential to effectively manage landscapes.

Last Modified: 10/22/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page