Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 1/30/2007
Publication Date: 4/2/2007
Citation: Davies, K.W., Bates, J.D., Miller, R.F. 2007. Environmental and vegetation relationships of the artemisia tridentata spp. wyomingensis alliance. Journal of Arid Environments. 70(2007):478-494. Interpretive Summary: Environmental-vegetation relationships across the Wyoming big sagebrush alliance are not well explained. The purpose of this study was to identify environmental factors influencing plant species composition and determine the potential for using environmental factors to explain vegetation characteristics of the Wyoming big sagebrush alliance. Vegetation composition varied with soil characteristics. Vegetation cover was mainly influenced by direct incident radiation and soil characteristics. Vegetation structure exhibited weak to no relationships with environmental factors. These environmental-vegetation relationships offer management some ability to distinguish differences in site potentials and provide scientists with general models that further the understanding of Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities.
Technical Abstract: The Artemisia tridentata spp. wyomingensis (Beetle & A. Young) S.L. Welsh alliance is the most extensive of the big sagebrush complex in the Intermountain West and is characterized by a wide range of environments and vegetation heterogeneity. The purpose of this study was to identify environmental factors driving variation in plant species composition and determine the potential for using environmental factors to explain vegetation characteristics of the A. tridentata spp. wyomingensis alliance. Seventeen environmental factors and seven vegetation response variables were measured on 107 relatively undisturbed, late seral Wyoming big sagebrush sites across southeast Oregon and northern Nevada. Nonmetric Multidimensional Scaling (NMS) was used to identify environmental factors correlated with plant species composition as indexed by canopy cover. Stepwise multiple linear regression was used to develop models predicting plant cover and structural characteristics with environmental factors. Vegetation composition variation was driven by soil characteristics. Canopy cover of perennial grasses and forbs was moderately correlated with direct incident radiation and soil characteristics, particularly soil texture in the upper 15 cm of the profile. Total herbaceous cover variation was better explained by environmental factors (soil water holding capacity, incident radiation, depth to Bt horizon, and percent sand in the upper 15 cm of the soil profile)(P < 0.0001, R2 = 0.52) than any other vegetation characteristic. Vegetation structural characteristics (e.g. sagebrush height, volume, cover, and density, and visual obstruction) exhibited weak or no relationships with measured environmental variables. Limited correlation among environmental factors and vegetation characteristics was likely due to the large ecological amplitudes and ecotypic variations expressed by many of the plant species in the sagebrush steppe. The lack of strong environmental-vegetation relationships observed in this study suggests their usefulness for predictive purposes are limited; however, these relationships offer management some ability to distinguish differences in site potentials and illuminate the influence of direct incident radiation as well as soil characteristics on vegetation characteristics.