Improving models of community change is a fundamental goal in ecology and has renewed importance during global change and increasing human disturbance of the biosphere. Using the Mojave Desert (southwestern United States) as a model system, invaded by nonnative plants and subject to wildfire disturbances, we examined models of resilience, alternative stable states, and convergent‐divergent trajectories for 36 yr of plant community change after 31 wildfires in communities dominated by the native shrubs
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- Wiley Blackwell (John Wiley & Sons)
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Ecological Monographs
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Introduction Soil microbial communities, including biological soil crust microbiomes, play key roles in water, carbon and nitrogen cycling, biological weathering, and other nutrient releasing processes of desert ecosystems. However, our knowledge of microbial distribution patterns and ecological drivers is still poor, especially so for the Chihuahuan Desert. Methods This project investigated the effects of trampling disturbance on surface soil microbiomes, explored community composition and structure, and related patterns to abiotic and biotic landscape characteristics within the Chihuahuan Desert biome. Composite soil samples were collected in disturbed and undisturbed areas of 15 long-term ecological research plots in the Jornada Basin, New Mexico. Microbial diversity of cross-domain microbial groups (total Bacteria, Cyanobacteria, Archaea, and Fungi) was obtained via DNA amplicon metabarcode sequencing. Sequence data were related to landscape characteristics including vegetation type, landforms, ecological site and state as well as soil properties including gravel content, soil texture, pH, and electrical conductivity. Results Filamentous Cyanobacteria dominated the photoautotrophic community while Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria dominated among the heterotrophic bacteria. Thaumarchaeota were the most abundant Archaea and drought adapted taxa in Dothideomycetes and Agaricomycetes were most abundant fungi in the soil surface microbiomes. Apart from richness within Archaea ( p = 0.0124), disturbed samples did not differ from undisturbed samples with respect to alpha diversity and community composition ( p ≥ 0.05), possibly due to a lack of frequent or impactful disturbance. Vegetation type and landform showed differences in richness of Bacteria, Archaea, and Cyanobacteria but not in Fungi. Richness lacked strong relationships with soil variables. Landscape features including parent material, vegetation type, landform type, and ecological sites and states, exhibited stronger influence on relative abundances and microbial community composition than on alpha diversity, especially for Cyanobacteria and Fungi. Soil texture, moisture, pH, electrical conductivity, lichen cover, and perennial plant biomass correlated strongly with microbial community gradients detected in NMDS ordinations. Discussion Our study provides first comprehensive insights into the relationships between landscape characteristics, associated soil properties, and cross-domain soil microbiomes in the Chihuahuan Desert. Our findings will inform land management and restoration efforts and aid in the understanding of processes such as desertification and state transitioning, which represent urgent ecological and economical challenges in drylands around the world.more » « less
Grassland-to-shrubland transition is a common form of land degradation in drylands worldwide. It is often attributed to changes in disturbance regimes, particularly overgrazing. A myriad of direct and indirect effects (e.g., accelerated soil erosion) of grazing may favor shrubs over grasses, but their relative importance is unclear. We tested the hypothesis that topsoil “winnowing” by wind erosion would differentially affect grass and shrub seedling establishment to promote shrub recruitment over that of grass.
We monitored germination and seedling growth of contrasting perennial grass (
Bouteloua eriopoda, Sporobolus airoides, and Aristida purpurea) and shrub ( Prosopis glandulosa, Atriplex canescens, and Larrea tridentata) functional groups on field-collected non-winnowed and winnowed soils under well-watered greenhouse conditions. Results
Non-winnowed soils were finer-textured and had higher nutrient contents than winnowed soils, but based on desorption curves, winnowed soils had more plant-available moisture. Contrary to expectations, seed germination and seedling growth on winnowed and non-winnowed soils were comparable within a given species. The N2-fixing deciduous shrub
P. glandulosawas first to emerge and complete germination, and had the greatest biomass accumulation of all species. Conclusions
Germination and early seedling growth of grasses and shrubs on winnowed soils were not adversely nor differentially affected comparing with that observed on non-winnowed soils under well-watered greenhouse conditions. Early germination and rapid growth may give
P. glandulosaa competitive advantage over grasses and other shrub species at the establishment stage in grazed grasslands. Field establishment experiments are needed to confirm our findings in these controlled environment trials.
Fire exclusion and mismanaged grazing are globally important drivers of environmental change in mesic C4grasslands and savannas. Although interest is growing in prescribed fire for grassland restoration, we have little long‐term experimental evidence of the influence of burn season on the recovery of herbaceous plant communities, encroachment by trees and shrubs, and invasion by exotic grasses. We conducted a prescribed fire experiment (seven burns between 2001 and 2019) in historically fire‐excluded and overgrazed grasslands of central Texas. Sites were assigned to one of four experimental treatments: summer burns (warm season, lightning season), fall burns (early cool season), winter burns (late cool season), or unburned (fire exclusion). To assess restoration outcomes of the experiment, in 2019, we identified old‐growth grasslands to serve as reference sites. Herbaceous‐layer plant communities in all experimental sites were compositionally and functionally distinct from old‐growth grasslands, with little recovery of perennial C4grasses and long‐lived forbs. Unburned sites were characterized by several species of tree, shrub, and vine; summer sites were characterized by certain C3grasses and forbs; and fall and winter sites were intermediate in composition to the unburned and summer sites. Despite compositional differences, all treatments had comparable plot‐level plant species richness (range 89–95 species/1000 m2). At the local‐scale, summer sites (23 species/m2) and old‐growth grasslands (20 species/m2) supported greater richness than unburned sites (15 species/m2), but did not differ significantly from fall or winter sites. Among fire treatments, summer and winter burns most consistently produced the vegetation structure of old‐growth grasslands (e.g., mean woody canopy cover of 9%). But whereas winter burns promoted the invasive grass
Bothriochloa ischaemumby maintaining areas with low canopy cover, summer burns simultaneously limited woody encroachment and controlled B. ischaemuminvasion. Our results support a growing body of literature that shows that prescribed fire alone, without the introduction of plant propagules, cannot necessarily restore old‐growth grassland community composition. Nonetheless, this long‐term experiment demonstrates that prescribed burns implemented in the summer can benefit restoration by preventing woody encroachment while also controlling an invasive grass. We suggest that fire season deserves greater attention in grassland restoration planning and ecological research.
Understanding how abiotic disturbance and biotic interactions determine pollinator and flowering‐plant diversity is critically important given global climate change and widespread pollinator declines. To predict responses of pollinators and flowering‐plant communities to changes in wildfire disturbance, a mechanistic understanding of how these two trophic levels respond to wildfire severity is needed.
We compared site‐to‐site variation in community composition (
β‐diversity), species richness and abundances of pollinators and flowering plants among landscapes with no recent wildfire (unburned), mixed‐severity wildfire and high‐severity wildfire in three sites across the Northern Rockies Ecoregion, USA. We used variation partitioning to assess the relative contributions of wildfire, other abiotic variables (climate, soils and topography) and biotic associations among plant and pollinator composition to community assembly of both trophic levels.
Wildfire disturbance generally increased species richness and total abundance, but decreased
β‐diversity, of both pollinators and flowering plants. However, reductions in β‐diversity from wildfire appeared to result from increased abundances following fires, resulting in higher local species richness of pollinators and flowers in burned than unburned landscapes. After accounting for differences in abundance, standardized effect sizes of β‐diversity were higher in burned than unburned landscapes, suggesting that wildfire enhances non‐random assortment of pollinator and flowering‐plant species among local communities.
Wildfire disturbance mediated the relative importance of mutualistic associations to
β‐diversity of pollinators and flowering plants. The influence of pollinator β‐diversity on flowering‐plant β‐diversity increased with wildfire severity, whereas the influence of flowering‐plant β‐diversity on pollinator β‐diversity was greater in mixed‐severity than high‐severity wildfire or unburned landscapes. Moreover, biotic associations among pollinator and plant species explained substantial variation in β‐diversity of both trophic levels beyond what could be explained by wildfire and all other abiotic and spatial factors combined. Synthesis. Wildfire disturbance and plant–pollinator interactions both strongly influenced the assembly of pollinator and flowering‐plant communities at local and regional scales. However, biotic interactions were generally more important drivers of community assembly in disturbed than undisturbed landscapes. As wildfire regimes continue to change globally, predicting its effects on biodiversity will require a deeper understanding of the ecological processes that mediate biotic interactions among linked trophic levels.
null (Ed.)Maritime forests are threatened by sea-level rise, storm surge and encroachment of salt-tolerant species. On barrier islands, these forested communities must withstand the full force of tropical storms, hurricanes and nor’easters while the impact is reduced for mainland forests protected by barrier islands. Geographic position may account for differences in maritime forest resilience to disturbance. In this study, we quantify two geographically distinct maritime forests protected by dunes on Virginia’s Eastern Shore (i.e., mainland and barrier island) at two time points (15 and 21 years apart, respectively) to determine whether the trajectory is successional or presenting evidence of disassembly with sea-level rise and storm exposure. We hypothesize that due to position on the landscape, forest disassembly will be higher on the barrier island than mainland as evidenced by reduction in tree basal area and decreased species richness. Rate of relative sea-level rise in the region was 5.9 ± 0.7 mm yr−1 based on monthly mean sea-level data from 1975 to 2017. Savage Neck Dunes Natural Area Preserve maritime forest was surveyed using the point quarter method in 2003 and 2018. Parramore Island maritime forest was surveyed in 1997 using 32 m diameter circular plots. As the island has been eroding over the past two decades, 2016 Landsat imagery was used to identify remaining forested plots prior to resurveying. In 2018, only plots that remained forested were resurveyed. Lidar was used to quantify elevation of each point/plot surveyed in 2018. Plot elevation at Savage Neck was 1.93 ± 0.02 m above sea level, whereas at Parramore Island, elevation was lower at 1.04 ± 0.08 m. Mainland dominant species, Acer rubrum, Pinus taeda, and Liquidambar styraciflua, remained dominant over the study period, with a 14% reduction in the total number of individuals recorded. Basal area increased by 11%. Conversely, on Parramore Island, 33% of the former forested plots converted to grassland and 33% were lost to erosion and occur as ghost forest on the shore or were lost to the ocean. Of the remaining forested plots surveyed in 2018, dominance switched from Persea palustris and Juniperus virginiana to the shrub Morella cerifera. Only 46% of trees/shrubs remained and basal area was reduced by 84%. Shrub basal area accounted for 66% of the total recorded in 2018. There are alternative paths to maritime forest trajectory which differ for barrier island and mainland. Geographic position relative to disturbance and elevation likely explain the changes in forest community composition over the timeframes studied. Protected mainland forest at Savage Neck occurs at higher mean elevation and indicates natural succession to larger and fewer individuals, with little change in mixed hardwood-pine dominance. The fronting barrier island maritime forest on Parramore Island has undergone rapid change in 21 years, with complete loss of forested communities to ocean or conversion to mesic grassland. Of the forests remaining, dominant evergreen trees are now being replaced with the expanding evergreen shrub, Morella cerifera. Loss of biomass and basal area has been documented in other low elevation coastal forests. Our results indicate that an intermediate shrub state may precede complete loss of woody communities in some coastal communities, providing an alternative mechanism of resilience.more » « less