Fire Ecology, 2013
Volume 9, Issue 2
Creating Hotter Fires in the Sonoran Desert: Buffelgrass Produces Copious Fuels and High Fire Temperatures
Authors: Christopher J. McDonald and Guy R. McPherson
Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare [L.] Link) can create a grass-fire cycle in many parts of the world because it is a highly competitive, fire-tolerant grass and can replace less fire-tolerant native plants. Fuel loads, loss of buffelgrass biomass after herbicide treatments, and allometric data of buffelgrass growth were measured across sites in southern Arizona, USA. Prescribed fires also were conducted in buffelgrass-dominated fields to measure fire temperatures and quantify relationships between temperature and fuel load. We directly recorded temperatures up to 871 °C and indirectly recorded temperatures of 900 °C. There was no relationship between fuel load and temperature, likely because increased fuel was insufficient to contribute to additional fire intensity beyond minimum fuel loads. Compared to previously described buffelgrass stands and across different desert ecosystems, buffelgrass fuel loads were higher than reported in most other studies, and inter-annual variation in buffelgrass biomassis much lower than that of other invasive grasses, including annual and perennial grasses. As a result, buffelgrass creates a more consistent year-to-year fire hazard than annual grasses. Managers have used herbicide to reduce buffelgrass biomass and we found that, after three years of decomposition, stands of dead buffelgrass were unlikely to support fire spread. Allometric relationships can provide an accurate estimate of buffelgrass biomass of individual plants, but not fuel loads. Buffelgrass produces nonnative grasslands at relatively low elevations of the Sonoran Desert, with more biomass than comparable grasslands in more mesic environments.