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Fire Effects on Seedbanks and Vegetation in the Eastern Mojave Desert: Implications for Postfire Management

1993 fire in Sonoran desertscrub near Sugarloaf Mountain near Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Cecil Schwalbe.
Limited information is currently available on the short-term effects of fire on the soil seedbanks and standing vegetation of native and non-native plants in the Mojave Desert. This information is critical for determining if postfire seedings of native plants are potentially beneficial for promoting the establishment of native species and reducing the dominance of non-native species. In addition, the long-term effects of fire have only been sparingly documented. This is due both to the difficulties of maintaining long-term studies, and the lack of scientists who have devoted their time to studying fire effects in the Mojave Desert.

Project Details

The amount of area burned has steadily increased since the early 1970s, largely due to fuelbed changes caused by non-native plants invasions (Brooks and Esque 2002, Brooks et al. 2003, Brooks and Minnich in press), and fire management is becoming an ever more significant activity of land managers in this region. There is a critical need for information on the short-term effects of fire to help develop Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ES&R) and Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) plans, and on the long-term effects of fire to help develop comprehensive fire and invasive plant management plans in the region. Highlighting the need for this information, a recent assessment of fire information in the desert park units of the National Park Service, Pacific West Region, identified studies evaluating fire effects on vegetation density, cover, species composition, and species diversity as top research priorities (Sullivan 2000). Similar objectives were included in the Fire Effects Monitoring and Research Plan for the Mojave National Preserve, which was recently approved in FY05.


This project is designed to collect data to evaluate the short-term effects of fire on soil seedbanks and vegetation immediately following the Hackberry Fire Complex which occurred at the Mojave National Preserve in the eastern Mojave Desert during summer 2005. Recently completed vegetation (Thomas et al. 2004) and fuel (Brooks et al. 2004a) maps exist for this region that provide prefire data on vegetation species composition, stand structure, and potential fire spread rates and intensities. These data, coupled with burn severity information from both remote sensing (BARC maps from the BAER plan) and ground-based plot data (using NPS-Fire Monitoring Handbook (FMH) protocols), and with observed fire behavior recorded during the incident, will allow us to relate prefire vegetation characteristics with fire behavior and postfire effects on seedbanks and vegetation.

USGS Contact For This Project
Matthew Brooks
(559) 240-7622
Yosemite Field Station
40298 Junction Dr., Suite A
Oakhurst, CA 93644
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