Vegetation of semi-stable rangeland dunes of the Navajo Nation, Southwestern USA

2016-04-27T19:39:00Z (GMT) by Kathryn A. Thomas Margaret H. Redsteer
<p>Dune destabilization and increased mobility is a worldwide issue causing ecological, economic, and health problems for the inhabitants of areas with extensive dune fields. Dunes cover nearly a third of the Navajo Nation within the Colorado Plateau of southwestern USA. There, higher temperatures and prolonged drought beginning in 1996 have produced significant increases in dune mobility. Vegetation plays an important role in dune stabilization, but there are few studies of the plants of the aeolian surfaces of this region. We examined plant species and their attributes within a moderately vegetated dune field of the Navajo Nation to understand the types and characteristics of plants that stabilize rangeland dunes. These dunes supported a low cover of mixed grass-scrubland with fifty-two perennial and annual species including extensive occurrence of non-native annual <i>Salsola</i> spp. Perennial grass richness and shrub cover were positively associated with increased soil sand composition. Taprooted shrubs were more common on sandier substrates. Most dominant grasses had C4 photosynthesis, suggestive of higher water-use efficiencies and growth advantage in warm arid environments. Plant cover was commonly below the threshold of dune stabilization. Increasing sand movement with continued aridity will select for plants adapted to burial, deflation, and abrasion. The study indicates plants tolerant of increased sand mobility and burial but more investigation is needed to identify the plants adapted to establish and regenerate under these conditions. In addition, the role of <i>Salsola</i> spp. in promoting decline of perennial grasses and shrubs needs clarification.</p>