The University of Arizona

Vegetation responses following wildfire on grazed and ungrazed sagebrush semi-desert.

N.E. West, T.P. Yorks


A 20-year set of cover data on sagebrush semi-desert plant communities responding to wildfire and livestock grazing near Mills in central Utah provided an opportunity to compare the assumptions and adaptability of classical and state-and-transition models for describing secondary succession. Cover data were organized and analyzed by plant species, growth forms, and other ground cover classes. Graphical analysis, ordination (employing semi-strong hybrid multi-dimensional scaling), regression, and analysis-of-variance were used to determine whether the patterns observed were best described as community change (tightly linked species) or individualistic change (each species acting independently). Distinct differences in total plant cover, growth form, and species composition were found between burned (both grazed and ungrazed) and the unburned and grazed treatments. Conventional graphical and statistical analyses of burned and ungrazed plots showed greater and earlier expansion of perennial grasses and then relatively less cover-weighted compositional change in recent years compared to the other treatments. Vegetation on none of the treatments appears to have stabilized toward either the pre-burn sagebrush semi-desert, a new state or the potential natural community for the site involved. Pathways of change reflected in the ordinations have been complex in all treatments. The only obvious trends in responses of individual species were to fire and the inverse relationship of cheatgrass to total perennial vegetational cover. All this evidence points to few tight linkages between species or growth form groups and thus favors viewing these patterns individualistically. While the state-and-transition model allows greater flexibility than the classical model in the depiction of plant community/individual species changes consequent to any management action, it doesn't apply readily everywhere, as exemplified by this case study.



alluvial land;data analysis;seral stages;Pseudoroegneria spicata;annuals;wildfire management;Salsola tragus;experimental design;range condition;ecological succession;perennials;fires;fire effects;Bromus tectorum;forbs;precipitation;grazing intensity;Artemisia tridentata;plant communities;shrubs;Utah;canopy;grasses

Full Text: