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Effectiveness of post-fire seeding in desert tortoise Critical Habitat following the 2005 Southern Nevada Fire Complex

January 1, 2010

In June 2005, lightning strikes ignited multiple wildfires in southern Nevada. The Southern Nevada Fire Complex burned more than 32,000 acres of designated desert tortoise Critical Habitat and an additional 403,000 acres of Mojave Desert habitat characterized as potentially suitable for the tortoise. Mortalities of desert tortoises were observed after the fires, but altered habitat is likely to prolong and magnify the impacts of wildfire on desert tortoise populations. To accelerate the re-establishment of plants commonly used by tortoises for food and shelter, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) distributed seeds of native annual and perennial species in burned areas within desert tortoise Critical Habitat. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) established monitoring plots to evaluate broadcast seeding as a means to restore habitat and tortoise activity compared with natural recovery. Within the standard three-year Emergency and Stabilization Response (ESR) monitoring timeline, seeding augmented perennial seed banks by four to six-fold within a year of seed applications compared with unseeded areas. By the end of the three-year monitoring period, seedling densities of seeded perennial species were 33% higher in seeded areas than in unseeded areas, particularly for the disturbance-adapted desert globemallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua) and desert marigold (Baileya multiradiata). Seeded annuals, in contrast, did not increase significantly in seed banks or biomass production, likely due to low seeding rates of these species. Production of non-native annuals that helped carry the fires was not reduced by seeding efforts but instead was strongly correlated with site-specific rainfall, as were native annual species. The short-term vegetation changes measured in seeded areas were not yet associated with a return of tortoise activity to unburned levels. By focusing on a combination of native species that can withstand disturbance conditions, including species that are found in adjacent unburned areas, and increasing seeding rates, broadcast seeding has strong potential to provide herbaceous plants for forage and long-term perennial plant cover to support tortoise recovery in burned habitats.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2010
Title Effectiveness of post-fire seeding in desert tortoise Critical Habitat following the 2005 Southern Nevada Fire Complex
Authors Lesley DeFalco, K. Kristina Drake, S. J. Scoles-Sciulla, Kyla L. Bauer
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Other Government Series
Index ID 70139963
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center

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