Dominant plant species are often used as indicators of site potential in forest and rangelands. However, subspecies of dominant vegetation often indicate different site characteristics and, therefore, may be more useful indicators of plant community potential and provide more precise information for management. Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata Nutt.) occurs across large expanses of the western United States. Common subspecies of big sagebrush have considerable variation in the types of sites they occupy, but information that quantifies differences in their vegetation characteristics is lacking. Consequently, wildlife and land management guidelines frequently do not differentiate between subspecies of big sagebrush. To quantify vegetation characteristics between two common subspecies of big sagebrush, we sampled 106 intact big sagebrush plant communities. Half of the sampled plant communities were Wyoming big sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. wyomingensis [Beetle & A. Young] S. L. Welsh) plant communities, and the other half were mountain big sagebrush (A. tridentata subsp. vaseyana [Rydb.] Beetle) plant communities. In general, mountain big sagebrush plant communities were more diverse and had greater vegetation cover, density, and biomass production than Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities. Sagebrush cover was, on average, 2.4-fold higher in mountain big sagebrush plant communities. Perennial forb density and cover were 3.8- and 5.6-fold greater in mountain compared to Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities. Total herbaceous biomass production was approximately twofold greater in mountain than Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities. The results of this study suggest that management guidelines for grazing, wildlife habitat, and other uses should recognize widespread subspecies as indicators of differences in site potentials.
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Vol. 63 • No. 4