2003 Prescribed Burn Effect on Chihuahuan Desert Grasses and Shrubs at the Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico: Species Composition Study (2004-present)



Disturbance from fire can affect the abundance and distribution of shrubs and grasses in arid ecosystems. In particular, fire may increase grass and forb production while hindering shrub encroachment. Therefore, prescribed fires are a common management tool for maintaining grassland habitats in the southwest. However, Bouteloua eriopoda (black grama), a dominant species in Chihuahuan Desert grassland, is highly susceptible to fire resulting in death followed by slow recovery rates. A prescribed fire on the Sevilleta National Wildlife refuge in central New Mexico in 2003 provided the opportunity to study the effects of infrequent fires on vegetation in this region. This study was conducted along a transition zone where creosote bushes (Larrea tridentata) are encroaching on a black grama grassland. Before and after the fire, above ground plant productivity and composition were monitored from 2003 to present. Following the prescribed fire, there were fewer individual grass clumps and less above ground grass cover in burned areas compared to unburned areas. This decrease in productivity was primarily from a loss of B. eriopoda. Specifically, B. eriopoda density and cover were significantly lower following the fire with a slow recovery rate in the five years following the fire. Other grasses showed no such adverse response to burning.

Data set ID: 


Date Range: 

Tuesday, May 18, 2004 to Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Publication Date: 

Friday, February 19, 2016

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