In the American West, humans are changing the desert. Grass fires are becoming larger, more frequent and more intense. During 2012 there were multiple large fires burning in deserts and forests across the West. Native desert plants and animals are generally not adapted to fire and are slow to recover following one. Big fires, like the ones we have been experiencing, have the potential to unbalance desert ecosystems.
We want to better understand how deserts recover from fires. This will help us to predict post-fire recovery potential of the biological community and identify management approaches that are most likely to aid in recovery.
Because large-scale fire in deserts seem to be a relatively new situation, the underlying causes and consequences are not well understood. In this research our first goal is to find the environmental conditions that allow large fires to happen in desert landscapes. Invasive grasses spread fires across deserts. The working hypothesis is that understanding the relationships between precipitation patterns, soil conditions and fire history will make invasive grass production predictable. If these factors are better understood, they can be used to predict and manage fire risk in desert landscapes.
We will understand how climate and fire can change the biological community. We’ll look at how climate and fire change the flow of resources (water and nutrients) from soil to plants and how that affects plant growth and reproduction.
We will explore how small mammals and pollinators recover from fire. We’ll look at how they can affect both native plants and invasive grasses. We’ll look at how these animals affect plant establishment, growth and reproduction through pollination, seed dispersal and plant consumption.
We’ll develop an environmental sensing network to disentangle the responses of early season invasive grasses from native shrubs and directly assess the influence of climate variability on plant phenology and production.
Finally, we will bring this science and information to you, the next generation of scientists and educators.