Fire has become more extensive in recent decades in southwestern United States arid lands. Burned areas pose management challenges and opportunities, and increasing our understanding of post-fire plant colonization may assist management decision-making. We examined plant communities, soils, and soil seed banks two years after the 2005 Loop Fire, located in a creosote-blackbrush community in Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area in southern Nevada's Mojave Desert. Based on a spring sampling of 20, 0.01-ha plots, live dead cover of the exotic annual Bromus rubens averaged nine times lower on the burn than on a paired unburned area. Perennial species composition shifted from dominance by late-successional native shrubs (e.g., Coleogyne ramosissima) on the unburned area, to dominance by native perennial forbs (e.g., Sphaeralcea ambigua, Baileya multiradiata) on the burn. Species richness of live plants averaged 26% (100 m2 scale) and 239% (1 m2 scale) greater on the burn compared to the unburned area. Only 5% of Larrea tridentata individuals resprouted, compared to 64% of Yucca schidigera and baccata. Fire and microsite (interspace, below L. tridentata, or below Yucca) interacted to affect several 0–5 cm soil properties, with higher pH, conductivity, and total P and K on burned Yucca microsites. Bromus rubens density in 0–5 cm soil seed banks was four times lower on the burn, and its distribution among microsites reversed. Below-shrub microsites contained the most B. rubens seeds on the unburned area, but the least on the burned area. Intense fire below shrubs may have increased seed mortality, an idea supported by >3-fold decreases we found in emergence density after heating seed bank samples to 100°C. Our study occurred after a post-fire period of below-average precipitation, underscoring a need for longer term monitoring that characterizes moister years.
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Vol. 56 • No. 3