The role of fire on soil mounds and surface roughness in the Mojave Desert

Authors

  • Christopher E. Soulard,

    Corresponding author
    • Western Geographic Science Center, United States Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, USA
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  • Todd C. Esque,

    1. Western Ecological Research Center, Las Vegas Field Station, United States Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Henderson, NV, USA
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  • David R. Bedford,

    1. Geology, Energy, Minerals, and Geophysics Science Center, United States Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA, USA
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  • Sandra Bond

    1. Western Remote Sensing and Visualization Center, United States Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, Sacramento, CA, USA
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Correspondence to: Christopher E. Soulard, Western Geographic Science Center, United States Department of the Interior, United States Geological Survey, 345 Middlefield Road, MS-531, Menlo Park, CA 94025, USA. E-mail: csoulard@usgs.gov

ABSTRACT

A fundamental question in arid land management centers on understanding the long-term effects of fire on desert ecosystems. To assess the effects of fire on surface topography, soil roughness, and vegetation, we used terrestrial (ground-based) LiDAR to quantify the differences between burned and unburned surfaces by creating a series of high-resolution vegetation structure and bare-earth surface models for six sample plots in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Arizona. We find that 11 years following prescribed burns, mound volumes, plant heights, and soil-surface roughness were significantly lower on burned relative to unburned plots. Results also suggest a linkage between vegetation and soil mounds, either through accretion or erosion mechanisms such as wind and/or water erosion. The biogeomorphic implications of fire-induced changes are significant. Reduced plant cover and altered soil surfaces from fire likely influence seed residence times, inhibit seed germination and plant establishment, and affect other ecohydrological processes. Published in 2012. This article is a US Government work and is in the public domain in the USA.

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