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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Spatial patterns of grasses and shrubs in an arid grassland environment

Authors
item Alvarez, L -
item Epstein, H -
item Li, J -
item Okin, G -

Submitted to: Ecosphere
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: June 30, 2011
Publication Date: September 21, 2011
Citation: Alvarez, L.J., Epstein, H.E., Li, J., Okin, G.S. 2011. Spatial patterns of grasses and shrubs in an arid grassland environment. Ecosphere. 2(9):Article 03.

Interpretive Summary: To better understand the dynamics of the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem and to provide information regarding the interactions between grasses and shrubs, we examined the changing spatial patterns of grasses and shrubs in remaining grass-dominated areas, interspersed with some shrubs. The observed changes occurred during a period of greater than average rainfall, indicating that greater water availability may lead to increased competition among grasses and decreased competition between grasses and shrubs.

Technical Abstract: In the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico and New Mexico, shrub invasion is a common problem, and once-abundant grassland ecosystems are being replaced by shrub-dominated habitat. The spatial arrangement of grasses and shrubs in these arid grasslands can provide better insight into community dynamics and can provide information on grass shrub interactions. To better understand the dynamics of the Chihuahuan Desert ecosystem and to provide information regarding the interactions between grasses and shrubs, we examined the spatial patterns of grasses and shrubs in remaining grass-dominated areas, interspersed with some shrubs. We developed 18, 10320 m vegetation distribution plots by mapping the location of all grasses and shrubs on each and repeating the measurements three years later. Spatial patterns were then assessed for each plot using a second-order spatial statistic, Ripley’s K-function, as well as any observed changes in the spatial patterns over a three-year period. We observed clumped grass distributions, indicating a lack of competition among grasses; random shrub distributions; and even grass distribution with respect to shrub locations, indicating competition between grasses and shrubs. We also observed a tendency for grass distributions to become more even over time, and grasses to become less even with respect to shrub locations over time. These changes occurred during a period of greater than average rainfall, indicating that greater water availability may lead to increased competition among grasses and decreased competition between grasses and shrubs.

Last Modified: 9/21/2014
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