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Dynamics of Mojave Desert Shrub Assemblages in the Panamint Mountains, California

Robert H. Webb, John W. Steiger and Raymond M. Turner
Ecology
Vol. 68, No. 3 (Jun., 1987), pp. 478-490
DOI: 10.2307/1938453
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1938453
Page Count: 13
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Dynamics of Mojave Desert Shrub Assemblages in the Panamint Mountains, California
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Abstract

We studied shrub communities in the Panamint Mountains of the Mojave Desert to determine whether vegetational changes after disturbance can be characterized as "succession" according to modern successional theory. We found, on a variety of disturbed and undisturbed sites, that the rate of change was a function of the type and age of disturbance. Recent debris-flow deposits were colonized by shrub assemblages of different species composition than those on the surrounding, older debris-flow deposits and other geomorphically stable surfaces. Colonization of human-disturbed sites was highly variable, but species compositions were different from the predisturbance species composition. In Grayia-Lycium assemblages, Grayia spinosa reasserted its dominance over colonizers relatively quickly. In Coleogyne assemblages, typically found on older geomorphic surfaces, species composition differences persisted considerably longer, depending on the severity of the initial disturbance. Extremely stable assemblages, dominated by Coleogyne ramosissima, occurred on the oldest, least disturbed surfaces. The variability of species composition among disturbed sites was greater than the variability among undisturbed and geomorphically stable sites, in accord with "convergent succession." Models of desert succession should consider several factors: (1) colonization is dependent largely on the severity of disturbances and residual biotic components; (2) the time span for recovery may be longer than past periods of climatic and geomorphic stability; and (3) colonizing species may have considerable range in their life-history strategies.

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