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Satellite-derived prefire vegetation predicts variation in field-based invasive annual grass cover after fire

December 21, 2023


Invasion by annual grasses (IAGs) and concomitant increases in wildfire are impacting many drylands globally, and an understanding of factors that contribute to or detract from community resistance to IAGs is needed to inform postfire restoration interventions. Prefire vegetation condition is often unknown in rangelands but it likely affects variation in postfire invasion resistance across large burned scars. Whether satellite-derived products like the Rangeland Analysis Platform (RAP) can fulfill prefire information needs and be used to parametrize models of fire recovery to inform postfire management of IAGs is a key question.


We used random forests to ask how IAG abundances in 669 field plots measured in the 2-3 years following megafires in sagebrush steppe rangelands of western USA responded to RAP estimates of annual:perennial prefire vegetation cover, the effects of elevation, heat load, postfire treatments, soil moisture–temperature regimes, and land-agency ratings of ecosystem resistance to invasion and resilience to disturbance.


Postfire IAG cover measured in the field was 22¯% and RAP-estimated prefire annual herbaceous cover was 15.7¯%. The random forest model had an R2 of 0.36 and a root-mean-squared error (RMSE) of 4.41. Elevation, postfire herbicide treatment, and prefire estimates from RAP for the ratio of annual:perennial and shrub cover were the most important predictors of postfire IAG cover. Threshold-like relationships between postfire IAG cover and the predictors indicate that maintaining annual:perennial cover below 0.4 and shrub cover below <10% prior to wildfire would decrease invasion, at low elevations below 1400 m above sea level.


Despite known differences between RAP and field-based estimates of vegetation cover, RAP was still a useful predictor of variation in IAG abundances after fire. IAG management is oftentimes reactive, but our findings indicate impactful roles for more inclusively addressing the exotic annual community, and focusing on prefire maintenance of annual:perennial herbaceous and shrub cover at low elevations.

Publication Year 2023
Title Satellite-derived prefire vegetation predicts variation in field-based invasive annual grass cover after fire
DOI 10.1111/avsc.12759
Authors Christopher A Anthony, Cara Applestein, Matthew Germino
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied Vegetation Science
Index ID 70251950
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center