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Bunchgrass root abundances and their relationship to resistance and resilience of a burned shrub-steppe landscape

May 28, 2019

Invasion of exotic annual grasses (EAG) and increased wildfire have motivated an emphasis on managing rangeland plant communities for resistance to invasion and resilience to disturbances. These traits are provided primarily by perennial bunchgrasses in rangelands such as shrub steppe, and specifically but also hypothetically, the abundances and functioning of bunchgrass roots. We asked how bunchgrass root abundances relate to annual grass invasion and to more-readily measured, aboveground indicators of bunchgrass vigor. We used a standardized USDA protocol for root measurement in 445 excavations made in 2016-2018 across a topographically and ecologically varied region of sagebrush steppe burned in 2015 Soda megafire in the Northern Great Basin USA. Nearly all (99%) bunchgrasses, including seedlings, had deeper roots than the surrounding annual grasses (mean depth of annuals = 6.8 ±3.3 cm), and 88% of seedlings remained rooted in response to the “tug test” (uprooting resistance to ~1 kg of upward pull on shoot), with smaller plants (mean height and basal diameters < 20 cm and <2 cm, respectively) more likely to fail the test regardless of their root abundances. Lateral roots of bunchgrasses were scarcer in larger basal gaps (interspace between perennials) but were surprisingly not directly related to cover of surrounding EAG. However, EAG increased with basal gap size and decreased with bunchgrass basal diameter size (in addition to pre-fire EAG abundance), although there was considerable unexplained variability in the relationships. These results provide some support for 1) the importance of basal gaps and bunchgrass diameters as indicators of both vulnerability to annual grass invasion and bunchgrass root abundances, and 2) the need for more detailed methods for root measurement than used here in order to substantiate their usefulness in understanding rangeland resistance and resilience.

Publication Year 2019
Title Bunchgrass root abundances and their relationship to resistance and resilience of a burned shrub-steppe landscape
DOI 10.1016/j.rama.2019.04.001
Authors Matthew J. Germino, Matthew Fisk, Cara Applestein
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Rangeland Ecology and Management
Index ID 70204684
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center