Shrub encroachment into grasslands: End of an era?

Cho Ying Huang, Steven R. Archer, Mitchel P. McClaran, Stuart E. Marsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Shifts in the abundance of grasses and woody plants in drylands have occurred several times during the Holocene. However, our understanding of the rates and dynamics of this state-change in recent decades is limited to scattered studies conducted at disparate spatial and temporal scales; the potential misperceptions of shrub cover change could be remedied using cross spatiotemporal scale analyses that link field observations, repeat ground-level photography and remote sensing perspectives. The study was conducted across a semi-arid landscape in southern Arizona. Local data from long-term transects revealed three distinct chronological phases of shrub cover change: expansion (1961- 1991, 0.7% y-1), decline (1992-1997, -2.3% y-1) and stabilization (1998-2012, 22- 25% with no net cover change). Twenty-eight years (1984-2011) of broad-scale Landsat Thematic Mapper assessments confirm that shrub cover has been relatively stable in recent decades regardless of grazing regimes and landforms with the exception of the proliferation of succulents at lower elevations (verified by repeat photography acquired in 1987 and 2015) where the physical environment is the harshest, reflecting elevated temperature and winter precipitation deficit. Warmer, drier future climates are predicted to reduce woody plant carrying capacity and promote a shift to xerophytic succulents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere5474
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2018


  • Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM)
  • Grazing
  • Landform
  • Long-term ground measurement
  • Remote sensing
  • Repeat photography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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