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The role of fire on soil mounds and surface roughness in the Mojave Desert

August 31, 2012

A fundamental question in arid land management centers on understanding the long-term effects of fire on desert ecosystems. To assess the effects of fire on surface topography, soil roughness, and vegetation, we used terrestrial (ground-based) LiDAR to quantify the differences between burned and unburned surfaces by creating a series of high-resolution vegetation structure and bare-earth surface models for six sample plots in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona. We find that 11 years following prescribed burns, mound volumes, plant heights, and soil-surface roughness were significantly lower on burned relative to unburned plots. Results also suggest a linkage between vegetation and soil mounds, either through accretion or erosion mechanisms such as wind and/or water erosion. The biogeomorphic implications of fire-induced changes are significant. Reduced plant cover and altered soil surfaces from fire likely influence seed residence times, inhibit seed germination and plant establishment, and affect other ecohydrological processes.

Publication Year 2013
Title The role of fire on soil mounds and surface roughness in the Mojave Desert
DOI 10.1002/esp.3264
Authors Christopher E. Soulard, Todd C. Esque, David R. Bedford, Sandra Bond
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Earth Surface Processes and Landforms
Index ID 70039781
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Geographic Science Center