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Vegetation Response Following Invasive Tamarisk (Tamarix spp.) Removal and Implications for Riparian Restoration


  • Rebecca S. Harms,

    Corresponding author
    1. Center for Sustainable Environmento, Northern Arizona University, Box 5765, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, U.S.A.
      Address correspondence to Rebecca S. Harms, email
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  • Ron D. Hiebert

    1. Colorado Plateau Cooperative Ecosystem Study Unit, National Park Service, Box 5765, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to Rebecca S. Harms, email


Using a retrospective study of tamarisk removal sites across five states in the southwestern United States, we investigated (1) decreases in tamarisk cover; (2) the effects of tamarisk removal on vegetation; and (3) whether cutting or burning tamarisk has differing effects on plant communities. Our study provides an important first step in recognizing the effects of removing a dominant invasive species on meeting long-term goals of riparian restoration. We found that (1) both cutting and burning reduced mean tamarisk foliar cover by 82–95%, and this reduction was sustained over time. (2) Native foliar cover was 2- to 3-fold higher on tamarisk removal sites, but total foliar cover remained 60–75% lower than on control transects. No trend toward increases in native cover was noted over time. When tamarisk was included in the analyses, diversity in tamarisk removal sites was 2- to 3-fold higher than in the control sites and vegetation communities differed between treated and untreated sites. When tamarisk was excluded from the analyses, diversity was not greater at tamarisk removal sites, and there were no community differences between the treated and untreated transects. Differences in diversity were found to be driven by differences in evenness; overall species richness did not change following tamarisk removal. Sites in the Mojave showed the strongest increase in native foliar cover and diversity, Chihuahuan-transition sites showed a slight increase, and sites on the Colorado Plateau showed no overall increase. (3) There were no differences between plant communities at burned and cut sites. Our research indicates that vegetation response to tamarisk removal is often negligible. Land managers should be prepared for persistent depauperate plant communities following tamarisk removal if additional restoration measures are not instigated.

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