Soil Seed Banks of the Exotic Annual Grass Bromus rubens on a Burned Desert Landscape

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Abstract

Red brome (Bromus rubens), an exotic annual grass, can dominate soil seed banks and poses serious threats to mature native plant communities in the Mojave Desert by competing with native species and providing fine fuels that facilitate widespread wildfire. By exploring how seed bank density and composition in burned areas change over time since fire (TSF), we can improve our understanding of how the seed banks are affected by fire. Samples of the 5-cm-deep soil seed bank were collected from two microsites (under shrubs, in open interspaces) within paired burned and unburned areas on 12 fires ranging from 5-31 yr TSF. Seed bank samples were assayed using the emergence method and seed densities were compared among TSFs, burn status (burned, unburned), and microsites for the species that emerged. Red brome soil seed bank density was spatially variable and TSF rarely predicted abundance. Overall, undershrub seed densities did not differ between burned and unburned areas. However, at some fire sites, seed densities in interspaces were greater in burned than unburned areas. Although native seed densities were low overall, they did not appear to differ according to burn status. Studies have shown that red brome plant and seed bank densities can be greatly reduced immediately after fire. Management efforts that focus on this initial colonization window may be able to take advantage of diminished red brome seed densities to limit its reestablishment while facilitating the establishment of native species. However, this window is brief, as our findings indicate that once reestablished, red brome soil seed densities in burned areas can be similar to those in unburned areas within 5 yr.

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