Research and Publications

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Forest resistance to extended drought enhanced by Rx fire in low-elevation Sierra Nevada

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Relative to unburned sites, we found that burned sites had lower stem density and had lower proportions of recently dead trees (for stems ≤47.5 cm dbh) that presumably died during the drought. Differences in recent tree mortality among burned and unburned sites held for both fir (white fir and red fir) and pine (sugar pine and ponderosa pine) species. Unlike earlier results, models of individual tree mortality probability supported an interaction between plot burn status and tree size, suggesting the effect of prescribed fire was limited to small trees. We consider differences with other recent results and discuss potential management implications including trade-offs between large tree mortality following prescribed fire and increased drought resistance.

Sagebrush mtn. landscape

Episodic occurrence of favorable weather constrains recovery of a cold desert shrubland after fire

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This study demonstrates the importance of episodic periods of favorable weather for long-term plant population recovery following disturbance. Management strategies that increase opportunities for seed availability to coincide with favorable weather conditions, such as retaining unburned patches or repeated seeding treatments, can improve restoration outcomes in high-priority areas.

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Effects of elevation and selective disturbance on soil climate and vegetation in big sagebrush communities

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During the first years after removal of perennial grasses and forbs, there was an increase in soil water availability in spring at 13–30 cm soil depth that was associated with sagebrush establishment, particularly at upper elevations. In subsequent years, sagebrush continued to dominate even though little difference in soil water availability existed between disturbed and undisturbed plots. This indicates that quickly establishing sagebrush preempted resources and reduced perennial herb recovery. Resource preemption after disturbance will likely be a major driver of plant succession in the future as in the past. Species that establish best under future warmer and drier conditions are most likely to dominate after disturbance. A negative correlation (r2 = 0.34) between the standard deviation of annual spring soil water availability and perennial vegetation cover, which helps resist annual grass invasion, supports the hypothesis that greater resource fluctuation is associated with greater plant community invasibility. Current responses to fire and loss of native plant cover across elevational gradients can indicate future responses under a warmer and drier climate.

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Modelling species distributions and environmental suitability highlights risk of plant invasions in western US

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Invasive forb and grass species are likely to expand their ranges and continued increases in temperature, aridity and area burned will increase invasion risk. Monitoring species presence and absence and mapping known and potential ranges with a focus on presence detection, as in our methodology, will aid in identifying new invasions and prioritizing prevention and control.

Great Basin mountain scene

Sagebrush recovery patterns after fuel treatments mediated by disturbance type and plant functional group interactions

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Treatments in cooler and moister woodland sites had more positive effects on sagebrush recruitment and perennial grass cover, less negative effects on sagebrush intraspecific interactions, and smaller increases in annual grass cover indicating potential increases in resilience to fire. In warmer and drier invasion sites, reductions in woody fuels resulted in lack of sagebrush recruitment, disruption of sagebrush intraspecific interactions, and progressive increases in annual grass indicating reduced resilience to fire and resistance to invaders.

Sagebrush Steppe: Climate Vulnerability Assessments – A Collection of Resources

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Seeding locally sourced native compared to introduced bunchgrasses after wildfire in frigid WY big sagebrush

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Seeded native and introduced bunchgrasses both increased bunchgrass abundance and cover, even though precipitation was below average the first year post-seeding. Seeding introduced wheatgrasses, however, increased bunchgrass cover and abundance more than seeding native bunchgrasses. Seeding introduced wheatgrasses also limited exotic annual grass abundance and cover, but seeding locally sourced native bunchgrasses did not. Native bunchgrasses are slow growing, thus may limit exotic annual grasses in time. Alternatively, additional treatments, such as exotic annual grass control, may be needed to improve their success. The establishment of seeded native bunchgrasses in Wyoming big sagebrush in a below-average precipitation year is a promising result and suggests further research to improve seeded native vegetation success is warranted. The greater establishment of introduced wheatgrasses and their ability to limit exotic annual grasses suggests that successful introduced species may serve as a model for guiding trait selection in native species.

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Targeting conifer removal to create an even playing field for birds in the Great Basin

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The encroachment of pinyon-juniper woodlands into sagebrush habitat in the Great Basin Ecoregion of the western USA, represents a potential source of habitat degradation for sagebrush-associated wildlife species. To restore sagebrush habitat, managers are conducting large-scale conifer removal efforts within the Great Basin, particularly within Greater Sage-Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) priority areas for conservation. Such largescale habitat modification efforts may result in unintended ecological trade-offs for wildlife. To investigate these trade-offs, we used community science data to develop species distribution models for two sagebrush and three pinyon-juniper associated bird species of conservation concern in the Great Basin. We evaluated the predictive performance of our models with an independent dataset of presence locations derived from systematic monitoring programs. We then simulated conifer removal across the Great Basin and mapped habitat gains and losses for our study species. Despite differing land cover associations, 31%-51% of suitable habitat for our study species coincided with Greater Sage-Grouse priority areas for conservation. Our conifer removal scenario increased suitable habitat by 6%-17% for sagebrush associates and reduced habitat by 11%-41% for pinyon-juniper associates. We identified areas of the Great Basin where conifer removal expanded habitat for sagebrush associates without concurrent habitat loss for pinyon-juniper associates. Our results provide guidance for conducting vegetation management in the Great Basin while addressing the habitat needs for multiple focal species. Our methods, which use freely available community science data and geospatial layers, can easily be transferred to other species and ecoregions.

Targeted Grazing – A Collection of Resources

Resilience and Resistance – A Collection of Resources

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