Document Type



Increasing wildfire activity is one of the most pressing management concerns in arid lands of the American West. To examine post-fire recovery of perennial vegetation in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts, I analyzed data systematically synthesized from the literature. Post-fire sprouting by desert perennials is generally limited but varies among species. For example, only 3–37% of Larrea tridentata sprouted compared to 64–86% of Yucca schidigera. Four of five studies measuring recovery of perennial cover reported close relationships (r2 ¼ 0.67–0.99) between time since fire (TSF) and cover. In fact, three studies measuring the longest TSF (37 years) found that cover had returned to within 10% cover of unburned areas within approximately 40 years. Conversely, post-fire species composition exhibited little convergence with unburned composition in five of six studies even 47 years after fire. Sphaeralcea ambigua, Gutierrezia spp., Achnatherum speciosum, Encelia spp., Hymenoclea salsola, and Baileya multiradiata had the highest burned:unburned abundance ratios, although overall post-fire community composition differed between the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. Analyzing the literature as a whole suggested some generalities (e.g., that perennial cover reestablishes faster than composition), but more work is required for improving specific knowledge about plant recovery among fires, sites, species, and climates.


Burn; California – Mojave Desert; Community; Contingency effects; Disturbance; Desert plants – Effect of fires on; Fire ecology; North America – Sonoran Desert; Plant communities; Plant succession; Wildfires – Environmental aspects


Desert Ecology | Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Environmental Sciences | Plant Sciences

Publisher Citation

S.R. Abella Post-fire plant recovery in the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts of western North America Journal of Arid Environments, Volume 73, Issue 8, August 2009, Pages 699–707

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