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Disturbance Type and Sagebrush Community Type Affect Plant Community Structure After Shrub Reduction
- Riginos, Corinna, Veblen, Kari E., Thacker, Eric T., Gunnell, Kevin L., Monaco, Thomas A.
- Rangeland ecology & management 2019 v.72 no.4 pp. 619-631
- Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis, Bromus tectorum, annuals, codominance, community structure, ecosystems, environmental factors, forbs, grasses, harrows, introduced plants, perennials, plant communities, risk, shrubs, sowing, watersheds, Utah
- Treatments to reduce shrub cover are commonly implemented with the objective of shifting community structure away from shrub dominance and toward shrub and perennial grass codominance. In sagebrush (Artemisia L.) ecosystems, shrub reduction treatments have had variable effects on target shrubs, herbaceous perennials, and non-native annual plants. The factors mediating this variability are not well understood. We used long-term data from Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative project to assess short-term (1−4 yr post-treatment) and long-term (5−12 yr post-treatment) responses of sagebrush plant communities to five shrub reduction treatments at 94 sites that span a range of abiotic conditions and sagebrush community types. Treatments were pipe harrow with one or two passes, aerator, and fire with and without postfire seeding. We analyzed effect sizes (log of response ratio) to assess responses of sagebrush, perennial and annual grasses and forbs, and ground cover to treatments. Most treatments successfully reduced sagebrush cover over the short and long term. All treatments increased long-term perennial grass cover in Wyoming big sagebrush (A. tridentata Nutt. ssp. wyomingensis Beetle & Young) communities, but in mountain big sagebrush (ssp. vaseyana [Rydb.] Beetle) communities, perennial grasses increased only when seeded after fire. In both sagebrush communities, treatments generally resulted in short-term, but not long-term, increases in perennial forb cover. Annual grasses (largely invasive cheatgrass, Bromus tectorum L.) increased in all treatments on sites dominated by mountain big sagebrush but stayed constant or decreased on sites dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush. This result was unexpected because sites dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush are typically thought to be less resilient to disturbance and less resistant to invasion than sites dominated by mountain big sagebrush. Together, these results indicate some of the benefits, risks, and contingent outcomes of sagebrush reduction treatments that should be considered carefully in any future decisions about applying such treatments.