Roadless habitats as refuges for native grasslands: Interactions with soil, aspect, and grazing

  • Gelbard J
  • Harrison S
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The idea that roadless habitats act as refuges for native-plant diversity against exotic-plant invasion has seldom been tested. We examined the effect of distance from roads and its interactions with soil type, aspect, and livestock grazing on native- and exotic-plant diversity in a 130 000-ha inland California (USA) foothill grassland landscape. During spring 2000 and 2001, we measured the numbers of and cover by native and exotic plant species in 92 sites stratified by distance from roads (10 m, 100 m, and >1000 m), soil type (nonserpentine and serpentine), and aspect (cool, warm, and neutral slopes). In nonserpentine grasslands, native cover was greatest in sites >1000 m from roads (23%) and least in sites 10 m from roads (9%), and the percentage of species that were native was significantly greatest in sites >1000 m from roads (44%) and least in those 10 m from roads (32%). In addition, the most distant sites had the largest number of native grass species and the fewest exotic forb species. In serpentine grasslands there was no significant effect of distance from roads on the numbers of and cover by native and exotic species. On both soils, two exotic species (Centaurea solstitialis and Aegilops triuncialis) were at their lowest frequencies, while a native bunchgrass, Nassella pulchra, was at its highest frequency, in sites >1000 m from roads. On nonserpentine soils only, the exotics, Convolvulus arvensis and Polypogon monspeliensis, were at their lowest frequency, while a native bunchgrass, Poa secunda, was at its highest frequency in the most distant sites. Native species were more abundant on serpentine than nonserpentine soils; on serpentine, natives were more abundant on slopes than flat sites, while on nonserpentine, natives were least abundant on warm, south-facing slopes. Grazing, soil type, and aspect all significantly interacted in their effects on native and exotic richness and cover. Grazing negatively affected the number of native grass species, but not the number of native forb species on nonserpentine, and positively affected the number of native forb species, but not the number of native grass species on serpentine. Roadless areas are significant refuges for native species. However, to protect these habitats from the continued threat of invasion, land managers should consider means of preventing construction of new roads, limiting off-highway vehicle access into grasslands with low road densities, identifying a regime of livestock grazing that favors the persistence of natives over the spread of exotics, and monitoring recreational trails and grazing allotments within roadless areas to detect and eradicate new infestations.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Aegilops triuncialis
  • California grasslands
  • Centaurea solstitialis
  • Exotic-plant invasions
  • Grazing effect on species composition
  • Habitat management
  • Nassella pulchra
  • Native vs. exotic plant diversity
  • Roadless habitats

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  • Jonathan L. Gelbard

  • Susan Harrison

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