Patterns of big sagebrush plant community composition and stand structure in the western United States

Rangeland Ecology and Management
By: , and 



Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) plant communities are found in western North America and comprise a mix of shrubs, forbs, and grasses. Climate, topography, and soil water availability are important factors that shape big sagebrush stand structure and plant community composition; however, most studies have focused on understanding these relationships at sites in a small portion of the big sagebrush region. Our goal was to characterize detailed stand structure and plant composition patterns and identify environmental variables related to those patterns by sampling 15 sites distributed across the western United States. In each site, we characterized stand structure at the individual shrub level and at the site level. We quantified size distributions and assessed relationships among canopy volume, age, and height. We also characterized functional type cover and species composition and related those to climatic, topographic, and edaphic variables. Mean big sagebrush age ranged from 21 (± 8) to 57 (± 22) yr at individual sites, mean height ranged from 0.23 (± 0.12) to 0.67 (± 0.23) m, and mean canopy volume ranged from 0.03 (± 0.04) to 0.62 (± 0.51) m3. Bare ground and litter contributed the most cover (mean = 64%), followed by big sagebrush (mean = 39% of vascular plant cover). There was a negative relationship between big sagebrush cover and grass and forb cover. Species composition was related to both climate and elevation, likely because these variables influence water availability. Although our study was limited to 15 field sites, our detailed descriptions of widely distributed sites provide insight into the magnitude of variability in big sagebrush plant community structure.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Patterns of big sagebrush plant community composition and stand structure in the western United States
Series title Rangeland Ecology and Management
DOI 10.1016/j.rama.2018.11.013
Volume 72
Issue 3
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 10 p.
First page 505
Last page 514