Post-fire plant recovery in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of western North America
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Scott R. Abella
Publication Year: 2009

Cataloging Information

  • Achnatherum
  • arid regions
  • Arizona
  • burn
  • community
  • contingency actions
  • contingency effects
  • cover
  • deserts
  • disturbance
  • disturbance
  • Encelia
  • fire frequency
  • fire management
  • Gutierrezia
  • land management
  • Larrea tridentata
  • literature review
  • Mexico
  • Mojave Desert
  • plant communities
  • post-fire recovery
  • range management
  • Salsola
  • Sonoran Desert
  • Sphaeralcea
  • sprouting
  • succession
  • succession
  • vegetation recovery
  • wildfire
  • wildfires
  • Yucca
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Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 8, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 47970
Tall Timbers Record Number: 24011
TTRS Location Status: In-file
TTRS Call Number: Fire File
TTRS Abstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of the Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.

Annotated Bibliography

This document is part of the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography, which includes published research related to the interactions between climate change, wildfire, and subsequent ecosystem effects in the southwestern U.S. The publications contained in the Bibliography have each been summarized to distill the outcomes as they pertain to fire and climate. Go to this document's record in the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography.


Increasing wildfire activity is one of the most pressing management concerns in arid lands of the American West. To examine post-fire recovery of perennial vegetation in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, I analyzed data systematically synthesized from the literature. Post-fire sprouting by desert perennials is generally limited but varies among species. For example, only 3-37% of Larrea tridentata sprouted compared to 64-86% of Yucca schidigera. Four of five studies measuring recovery of perennial cover reported close relationships (r2 = 0.67-0.99) between time since fire (TSF) and cover. In fact, three studies measuring the longest TSF (> or =37 years) found that cover had returned to within 10% cover of unburned areas within approximately 40 years. Conversely, post-fire species composition exhibited little convergence with unburned composition in five of six studies even 47 years after fire. Sphaeralcea ambigua, Gutierrezia spp., Achnatherum speciosum, Encelia spp., Hymenoclea salsola, and Baileya multiradiata had the highest burned:unburned abundance ratios, although overall post-fire community composition differed between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. Analyzing the literature as a whole suggested some generalities (e.g., that perennial cover reestablishes faster than composition), but more work is required for improving specific knowledge about plant recovery among fires, sites, species, and climates.

Online Link(s):
Abella, Scott R. 2009. Post-fire plant recovery in the Mojave and Sonoran deserts of western north America. Journal of Arid Environments 73(8):699-707.