The blackbrush vegetation type is dominated by Coleogyne ramossisima, which is thought to preclude the coexistence of many other plant species. Fire can remove blackbrush cover and possibly increase plant species richness and evenness. Fire also may increase the frequency and cover of alien annual grasses, thereby intensifying landscape flammability. We tested these predictions in unburned and burned (6-14 years postfire) blackbrush at 3 sites spanning the range of this vegetation type in the Mojave Desert. Species richness in unburned blackbrush was similar to published values for other vegetation types in western North America, but richness varied significantly among the 3 sites and 4 spatial scales (1, 10, 100, and 1000 m2). Richness values declined in order from annual forbs, woody perennials, herbaceous perennials, annual grasses, cacti, to perennial grasses. Fire reduced Coleogyne cover, thus boosting species evenness. In contrast, species richness decreased after burning, although the results varied among spatial scales. Total cover was unaffected by fire because cover of woody perennials decreased, while cover of annual forbs, annual grasses, herbaceous perennials, and perennial grasses increased. Native species richness and cover decreased, whereas alien richness and cover increased after burning, especially where the alien forb Erodium cicutarium was present. Fire had no effect on frequency and variable effects on cover of alien annual grasses. These results indicate that in blackbrush species richness can vary among sites and local spatial scales, and effects of fire can vary among plant life-forms and between natives and aliens.
Additional publication details
Plant community patterns in unburned and burned blackbrush (Coleogyne ramosissima Torr.) shrublands in the Mojave Desert