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Spatial Variation in Remnant Grasses After a Grassland-to-Shrubland State Change: Implications for Restoration

Peters, Debra P. C., Mariotto, Isabella, Havstad, Kris M., Murray, Leigh W.
Rangeland ecology & management 2006 v.59 no.4 pp. 343
Bouteloua eriopoda, forage grasses, grasslands, shrublands, rangelands, land restoration, spatial distribution, plant establishment, botanical composition, basal area, history, temporal variation, Flourensia, Larrea tridentata, shrubs, spatial variation, plant density, grazing, livestock, soil water content, plant ecology, New Mexico
Around the world rangelands that have been degraded, such as historical desert grasslands now dominated by woody shrubs, are resistant to restoration efforts. The goal of this descriptive research was to examine the potential for black grama (Bouteloua eriopoda [[Torr.]] Torr.) recovery by remnant plants in a degraded area as a function of plant location across a landscape. Our objectives were 1) to document the historical dominant vegetation as a perennial grassland and determine broad-scale changes in dominance through time and 2) to examine fine-scale patterns of black grama presence and basal area with respect to microenvironmental conditions that indicate the landscape positions favorable for restoration. Historical vegetation maps starting in 1858, a field survey in 2002––2003 of the location of all individual black grama plants in a 29-ha area, and spatial data layers in a geographic information system were used to address these objectives. Upland grasses, including black grama, dominated the study site in 1858, although tarbush (Flourensia cernua DC.) was the dominant species by 1915, and creosotebush (Larrea tridentata [[DC.]] Cov.) is the current dominant. A total of 3 334 black grama plants were found for an average density of 0.01 plants··m⁻⁻². High spatial variation was found in the occurrence and basal area of black grama plants that was related to water availability rather than livestock grazing: most plants were found in or adjacent to an arroyo (67%%), at a northern aspect (47%%), and outside experimental exclosures established in 1930 (43%%). Largest average basal areas were found in the livestock exclosure, and in general, average basal area was not related with aspect or canopy microsite. These remnant plants can be used as propagule sources in restoration efforts, and information on microsite conditions for black grama survival can be used to improve restoration potential for similar sites.