Vegetation dynamics, fire, and the physical environment in coastal Central California

TitleVegetation dynamics, fire, and the physical environment in coastal Central California
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1993
AuthorsCallaway, RM, Davis, FW
KeywordsGramineae Compositae Fagaceae (Ecology Environmental Biology–Plant) Plants Vascular plants Spermatophytes Angiosperms Monocots Dicots Grassland Coastal Sage Scrub Chaparral Oak Woodland Community Grazing Climax Community Landscape Ecology Markov chain m

Current concepts of vegetation dynamics include that of the shifting landscape mosaic, but evidence for shifting mosaics in disturbed and undisturbed systems is primarily based on negative spatial relationships among adults and recruits, and not on measurements of actual shifts over time. We used aerial photographs to measure transition rates as evidence for mosaic shifts among grassland, coastal sage scrub, chaparral, and oak woodland communities in central coastal California between 1947 and 1989. In unburned plots without livestock, transition from grassland to coastal sage scrub was 0.69% per year, coastal sage scrub to oak woodland was 0.30% per year, and oak woodland to grassland was 0.08% per year. These transition rates, considered together, indicate that vegetation patterns may be dynamic on landscapes dominated by these communities. In burned plots without livestock, and in unburned plots where livestock were not excluded, transition rates were lowers, except for the conversion of oak woodland to grassland. In burned plots, a high rate of transition of coastal sage scrub to grassland was measured. Markov chain models predicted much less directional change in community proportions in either grazed or burned conditions than in ungrazed, unburned conditions. Some transition rates varied with substrate and topographical position, indicating that fire, grazing, and the physical environment interacted to determine direction and rate of vegetation change. Variation in transition on different substrates suggests that only portions of the vegetation of these landscapes may be dynamic, with some patches in certain combinations of environment and disturbance that change rapidly, and other patches that remain static as edaphic or topographic climax communities.