The role of environmental gradients in non-native plant invasion into burnt areas of Yosemite National Park, California

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Abstract:

ABSTRACT

Fire is known to facilitate the invasion of many non-native plant species, but how invasion into burnt areas varies along environmental gradients is not well-understood. We used two pre-existing data sets to analyse patterns of invasion by non-native plant species into burnt areas along gradients of topography, soil and vegetation structure in Yosemite National Park, California, USA. A total of 46 non-native species (all herbaceous) were recorded in the two data sets. They occurred in all seven of the major plant formations in the park, but were least common in subalpine and upper montane conifer forests. There was no significant difference in species richness or cover of non-natives between burnt and unburnt areas for either data set, and environmental gradients had a stronger effect on patterns of non-native species distribution, abundance and species composition than burning. Cover and species richness of non-natives had significant positive correlations with slope (steepness) and herbaceous cover, while species richness had significant negative correlations with elevation, the number of years post-burn, and cover of woody vegetation. Non-native species comprised a relatively minor component of the vegetation in both burnt and unburnt areas in Yosemite (percentage species = 4%, mean cover < 6.0%), and those species that did occur in burnt areas tended not to persist over time. The results indicate that in many western montane ecosystems, fire alone will not necessarily result in increased rates of invasion into burnt areas. However, it would be premature to conclude that non-native species could not affect post-fire succession patterns in these systems. Short fire-return intervals and high fire severity coupled with increased propagule pressure from areas used heavily by humans could still lead to high rates of invasion, establishment and spread even in highly protected areas such as Yosemite.

Keywords: Biological invasions; community invasibility; environmental gradients; fire; invasive plants; mediterranean-type ecosystems

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1366-9516.2005.00203.x

Affiliations: 1: Department of Environmental Science and Policy, University of California, Davis, California 95616, USA, 2: US Geological Survey, 5083 Foresta Road, El Portal, California 95318, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2006

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