In a rare, never-grazed, and undisturbed grassland in the southwest US, researchers conducted a multi-decadal study to assess how a protected ecosystem is faring under warming temperatures and the invasion of a non-native exotic grass.
A long-term assessment of ecosystem resilience in a protected grassland in the southwest US Canyonlands
Widespread disturbance and invasive species in the western US, along with long-term drought, have impacted and altered plant communities. To isolate ecosystem responses to climate change and non-native plant invasion without the impacts of livestock, researchers from the USGS, National Park Service, and collaborating agencies analyzed 24 years of plant cover monitoring from a never-grazed protected semi-arid grassland in Canyonlands National Park with patchy invasion by Bromus tectorum, a non-native grass discovered at the site in 1994.
Researchers compared their findings to surveys done in 1967 to assess ecosystem resilience to warming temperatures, drought, and invasive grass. They found that the native plant community was surprisingly resistant to a warmer, drier climate, with plant cover similar to that in 1967. The lack of disturbance to soils, biocrusts, and existing native plant cover constrained the growth and spread of the non-native grass.
Read the paper:
Duniway, M.C., Finger-Higgens, R., Geiger, E.L., Hoover, D.L., Pfennigwerth, A.A., Knight, A.C., Van Scoyoc, M., Miller, M., and Belnap, J., 2023, Ecosystem resilience to invasion and drought—Insights after 24 years in a rare never-grazed grassland: Global Change Biology, v.29, no. 20, p. 5866-5880, https://doi.org/10.1111/gcb.16882
Finger-Higgens, R., Geiger, E.L., Duniway, M.C., and Belnap, J., 2023, Biocrust cover, vegetation, and climate data from a protected grassland within Canyonlands National Park, Utah (ver. 2.0, Sept. 2023): U.S. Geological Survey data release, https://doi.org/10.5066/P9MA0LZG
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