Long-term relationships between seed bank communities and wildfire across four North American desert sites

Rachel K. Hosna, Sasha C. Reed, Akasha M. Faist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


It is well documented that the recovery of dryland plant communities following wildfire can be variable, and that legacies of fire can have long-lasting effects on aboveground plant communities. However, our understanding of the degree to which dryland soil seed banks, or the viable seeds in situ, are impacted by fire and their subsequent postfire succession remains extremely poor. To address this important knowledge gap, we used a time-since-fire approach to investigate soil seed bank community changes approximately 15 and 30 years after wildfire and to determine the influence of microsites (e.g., shrub vs. interspace) on seed bank composition. We assessed soil seed bank metrics across four North American deserts, including two cold desert sites (Colorado Plateau and Great Basin) and two warm desert sites (Chihuahuan and Sonoran). In greenhouse emergence trials, we found that seed bank characteristics diverged between warm and cold desert sites, such that warm desert sites had seed banks dominated by annual plants while our cold desert sites had seed banks with greater proportions of perennial species, regardless of fire history. In cold desert sites, fire significantly altered seed bank species composition even 30 years after fire. Shrub versus interspace microsites had no observed influence on seed bank composition in any desert. However, seed bank species richness was greater under shrubs in both warm deserts. Non-native species were present in the seed banks of all deserts and some were particularly abundant in the burned sites. Despite the presence of native species in both burned and unburned seed banks, the presence of non-native species suggests some degree of vulnerability to future disturbances because fire can create amplifying feedback with many non-native plants. Our results highlight strong differences in fires' relationship with seed banks for warm and cold desert sites and lend insight into how fire relates to the composition and diversity of the seeds that play a fundamental role in future plant communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere4398
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • Chihuahuan
  • Colorado Plateau
  • Great Basin
  • Sonoran
  • desert
  • dryland
  • ecosystem recovery
  • microsite
  • seed bank
  • time since fire


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