Resilience and resistance in sagebrush ecosystems are associated with seasonal temperature and water availability

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In this study, we used longer-term data to evaluate the relationships among soil climate conditions, perennial herbaceous cover, and cheatgrass cover following fuel management treatments across the environmental gradients that characterize sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin. Both prescribed fire and mechanical treatments increased soil water availability on woodland sites and perennial herbaceous cover on some woodland and sagebrush sites. Prescribed fire also slightly increased soil temperatures and especially increased cheatgrass cover compared to no treatment and mechanical treatments on most sites. Non-metric dimensional scaling ordination and decision tree partition analysis indicated that sites with warmer late springs and warmer and wetter falls had higher cover of cheatgrass. Sites with wetter winters and early springs (March-April) had higher cover of perennial herbs. Our findings suggest that site resistance to cheatgrass after fire and fuel control treatments decreases with a warmer and drier climate. This emphasizes the need for management actions to maintain and enhance perennial herb cover, such as implementing appropriate grazing management, and revegetating sites that have low abundance of perennial herbs in conjunction with fuel control treatments.

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