Researchers at UNLV's Public Lands Institute (PLI) and School of Life Sciences have been awarded a two-year, $179,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Interior's Joint Fire Science Program to identify native species that will help improve the restoration of arid lands following wildfires.
PLI and School of Life Sciences Assistant Research Professor Scott Abella and School of Life Sciences Professor Stanley Smith will use the funding to identify native species that can be easily established and strongly resistant to exotic grass invasion. The collaborative research and land management team also includes Alice Newton, vegetation management specialist at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and Christina Lund, botanist with the Las Vegas Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management.
Wildfires are occurring at greater frequency on Southwestern arid lands, such as the Mojave Desert in Southern Nevada. In 2006, wildfires burned 1.3 million acres in Nevada. The scars of the post-burn landscape often remain visible as efforts to reestablish native vegetation fail, while non-native grasses continue to grow and serve as fuel for the next lightning- or human-sparked wildfire.
This research addresses a critical issue for desert ecology in the Southwest and is of national interest. "We're faced with the challenge of exotic annual grasses fueling wildfires and then becoming even more abundant after the fire," says Abella. "We need to break the unnatural exotic grass-wildfire cycle. When native plants are reliably established, they can reclaim burn areas and be competitive in post-fire environments typically dominated by exotic annual grasses."
Researchers will examine the establishment and competitive abilities of nine native perennials at a nursery facility at Lake Mead National Recreation Area and at six desert sites within Lake Mead and adjacent to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Recommendations will be presented to land managers and scientists in late 2009. The findings will be disseminated through field trips, conferences, workshops, web sites, publications and technical articles.
The Public Lands Institute was initiated in 2005 to work in collaboration with federal, state, and non-profit partners to create new knowledge, advance technology, improve education, and engage the community to enhance public lands stewardship. More information about the institute is available at http://publiclands.unlv.edu.