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Title: Fire in Chihuahuan Desert grassland: Short-term effects on vegetation, small mammal populations, and faunal pedoturbation

item KILGORE, A - New Mexico State University
item JACKSON, E - New Mexico State University
item WHITFORD, WALT - New Mexico State University

Submitted to: Journal of Arid Environments
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/17/2009
Publication Date: 9/1/2009
Citation: Kilgore, A., Jackson, E., Whitford, W. 2009. Fire in Chihuahuan Desert grassland: Short-term effects on vegetation, small mammal populations, and faunal pedoturbation. Journal of Arid Environments. 73:1029-1034.

Interpretive Summary: Wildfires are an infrequent but natural disturbance in desert environments. The use of prescribed burning as a management tool to control encroachment of woody plants into desert grasslands can be effective if used sparingly and recognizing that initial effects of fire can be negative. This study showed that one year after a prescribed burn in a desert grassland the presence of some encroaching shrubs was reduced. However, some desirable perennial grasses were also reduced. Overall, species richness, an expression of the number of species in an area, was not impacted by fire. It is expected that 10 years after a prescribed burn in this desert grassland, the health of this system will be improved over conditions prior to the use of fire as a management tool.

Technical Abstract: A prescribed burn resulted in significant decreases in canopy cover of the grasses: Bouteloua eriopoda, Sporobolus flexuosus, and Aristida purpurea. One year post-burn, basal cover of B. eriopoda remained significantly lower in burned patches than in unburned areas but there were no differences in basal cover of the other perennial grasses. Only one species of the 14 summer annual species occurred in both burned and unburned plots. There were six species of spring annuals in burned patches but no spring annuals in the unburned grassland ten months post-burn. Fire killed 100% of the snakeweed shrubs (Gutierrezia sarothrae), 77% of the Ephedra torreyana shrubs, and 36% of the Yucca elata. All mesquite shrubs that were top-killed by fire, resprouted one month post-burn. Fire had no effect on abundance and species richness of rodents. There were fewer wolf spider, Geolycosa spp. burrows in burned areas than in unburned grassland. The area and volume of soil in termite galleries and sheeting were significantly larger in the unburned grassland than in the burned areas.