Invalid Unit Specified
M086 Larrea tridentata - Flourensia cernua - Prosopis spp. Chihuahuan Desert Scrub Macrogroup

The U.S. National
Vegetation Classification
Type Concept Sentence: This widespread Chihuahuan Desert scrub macrogroup has a moderate to sparse xeromorphic shrub layer frequently dominated by diagnostic species Acacia constricta, Acacia neovernicosa, Flourensia cernua, Larrea tridentata, Prosopis glandulosa, or Prosopis velutina. Stands may be dominated by a single species or be mixed, composed of a variety of desert scrub, thornscrub, stem rosette and succulent species present to codominant.
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Common (Translated Scientific) Name: Creosotebush - American Tarwort - Mesquite species Chihuahuan Desert Scrub Macrogroup
Colloquial Name: Chihuahuan Desert Scrub
Hierarchy Level: Macrogroup
Type Concept: This widespread Chihuahuan Desert scrub macrogroup has a moderate to sparse xeromorphic shrub layer frequently dominated by diagnostic species Acacia constricta, Acacia neovernicosa, Flourensia cernua, Larrea tridentata, Prosopis glandulosa, or Prosopis velutina. Stands may be dominated by a single species or be mixed, composed of a variety of desert scrub, thornscrub, stem rosette and succulent species present to codominant. Characteristic species may include Acacia greggii, Agave lechuguilla, Aloysia wrightii, Artemisia filifolia, Atriplex canescens, Baccharis pteronioides, Bernardia obovata, Dasylirion leiophyllum, Euphorbia antisyphilitica, Ephedra torreyana, Ephedra trifurca, Ferocactus spp., Fouquieria splendens, Jatropha dioica, Koeberlinia spinosa, Krameria erecta, Leucophyllum minus, Lycium spp., Mimosa aculeaticarpa var. biuncifera, Mortonia scabrella, Opuntia engelmannii, Cylindropuntia imbricata, Grusonia schottii, Cylindropuntia spinosior, Parthenium incanum, Poliomintha incana, Rhus microphylla, Viguiera stenoloba, Yucca elata, and Yucca torreyi. Many stands lack a herbaceous understory layer and develop a pebbly desert pavement on the soil surface sometimes with scattered grasses and forbs. If present, the understory is a sparse to moderately dense herbaceous layer dominated by graminoids. Grasses are common but generally have lower cover than shrubs. Associated graminoid species may include Bothriochloa barbinodis, Bouteloua curtipendula, Bouteloua eriopoda, Bouteloua gracilis, Bouteloua hirsuta, Bouteloua ramosa, Dasyochloa pulchella, Muhlenbergia porteri, Muhlenbergia setifolia, Pleuraphis mutica, Scleropogon brevifolius, Setaria leucopila, and Sporobolus flexuosus. Forb species are often present, but have low cover. Stands occur in the broad desert basins and plains extending up onto dissected gravelly alluvial fans and piedmonts (bajadas), and foothills in the Chihuahuan Desert below the chaparral zone. Elevation ranges from 1000-2000 m. Substrates include coarse-textured loams on well-drained, gravelly plains and slopes with typically non-saline, and frequently calcareous soils, often with a petrocalcic layer and derived from limestone, or to a lesser degree igneous rocks. However, substrates are variable and include sandy plains, coppice dunes and sandsheets that often occur on the leesides of large playas in basins where sand accumulates. Soils are fine-textured, often saline (silts, clay loams and clays) on alluvial flats and around playas, as well as in river floodplains. Stands can extend upslope on to colluvial slopes with cobbly skeletal soils.
Diagnostic Characteristics: This widespread Chihuahuan desert scrub macrogroup has a moderate to sparse xeromorphic shrub layer frequently dominated by diagnostic species Acacia constricta, Acacia neovernicosa, Flourensia cernua, Larrea tridentata, Prosopis glandulosa, or Prosopis velutina. Stands may be dominated by a single species or be mixed, composed of a variety of desert scrub, thornscrub, stem rosette and succulent species present to codominant. Characteristic species, both diagnostic and dominant, may include Acacia greggii, Agave lechuguilla, Aloysia wrightii, Artemisia filifolia, Atriplex canescens, Baccharis pteronioides, Bernardia obovata, Dasylirion leiophyllum, Euphorbia antisyphilitica, Ephedra torreyana, Ephedra trifurca, Ferocactus spp., Fouquieria splendens, Jatropha dioica, Koeberlinia spinosa, Krameria erecta, Leucophyllum minus, Lycium spp., Mimosa aculeaticarpa var. biuncifera, Mortonia scabrella, Opuntia engelmannii, Cylindropuntia imbricata, Grusonia schottii, Cylindropuntia spinosior, Parthenium incanum, Poliomintha incana, Rhus microphylla, Viguiera stenoloba, Yucca elata, and Yucca torreyi. See also Brown (1982b) for a list of diagnostic species. Only lowland mesquite-dominated shrublands are included in this macrogroup as upland mesquite-dominated shrublands are considered ruderal and were moved to ~North American Warm Desert Ruderal Scrub & Grassland Macrogroup (M512)$$.
Rationale for Nominal Species or Physiognomic Features: This widespread Chihuahuan Desert scrub macrogroup has a moderate to sparse xeromorphic shrub layer frequently dominated by diagnostic species Acacia constricta, Acacia neovernicosa, Flourensia cernua, Larrea tridentata, Prosopis glandulosa, or Prosopis velutina. Larrea tridentata was chosen as a nominal species as it is a typically dominant species that is mixed with a variety of Chihuahuan Desert indicator species. Flourensia cernua and Agave lechuguilla are both widespread differential species, but Flourensia cernua was chosen because it frequently dominates or codominates Chihuahuan desert scrub. Prosopis was chosen to represent both Prosopis glandulosa and Prosopis velutina, which are the other most widespread dominant species and are common on sandsheet sites. Acacia constricta or Acacia neovernicosa would also be a good nominal species but have a more restricted distribution (limestone).
Classification Comments: This broadly defined desert scrub macrogroup forms the matrix vegetation of the Chihuahuan Desert. During the last century, the area occupied by this macrogroup has increased dramatically through conversion of desert grasslands as a result of drought, overgrazing and seed dispersion by livestock, and/or decreases in fire frequency (Buffington and Herbel 1965, Herbel et al. 1972, Humphrey 1974, McLaughlin and Bowers 1982, Gibbens et al. 1983, Hennessy et al. 1983, Schlesinger et al. 1990, McPherson 1995). The upland mesquite-dominated shrublands formerly included in this macrogroup were moved to North American Warm Desert Ruderal Scrub & Grassland Macrogroup (M512) so the only remaining mesquite-dominated shrublands in this macrogroup occur in lowlands in Chihuahuan Desert Lowland Basin Scrub Group (G299).
Similar NVC Types:
M076 Warm Desert Lowland Freshwater Marsh, Wet Meadow & Shrubland, note:
M093 Great Basin Saltbush Scrub, note:
M087 Chihuahuan Semi-Desert Grassland, note: "may have similar species composition, but stands are grasslands or shrub-steppe and are characterized by a prominent perennial graminoid layer."
M088 Mojave-Sonoran Semi-Desert Scrub, note: "is desert scrub that is often dominated by Larrea tridentata, but lacks diagnostic Chihuahuan Desert species."
Physiognomy and Structure: The vegetation in this macrogroup has a moderate to sparse (<10% cover on extremely xeric sites) short-shrub layer (<2 m tall) of xeromorphic evergreen or deciduous, and/or succulent species, especially cacti, yucca, and agave. Understory dwarf-shrub and herbaceous layers and emergent tall shrubs may be absent or present. If present, the herbaceous layer has variable cover ranging from sparse (<10% cover) to fairly dense (>50% cover) and is often patchy. It is usually dominated by perennial graminoids, especially bunch grasses, with low cover of forbs.
Floristics: This Chihuahuan Desert scrub macrogroup has a moderate to sparse short-shrub layer (<10% cover on extremely xeric sites). Larrea tridentata is the most common dominant species, often covering entire landscapes in near-monotypic stands. Stands can also be codominated or dominated by a mix of thornscrub and other desert scrub species such as Agave lechuguilla, Aloysia wrightii, Artemisia filifolia, Baccharis pteronioides, Bernardia obovata, Dasylirion leiophyllum, Euphorbia antisyphilitica, Ferocactus spp., Fouquieria splendens, Jatropha dioica, Koeberlinia spinosa, Krameria erecta, Leucophyllum minus, Lycium spp., Mimosa aculeaticarpa var. biuncifera, Mortonia scabrella (= Mortonia sempervirens ssp. scabrella), Opuntia engelmannii, Cylindropuntia imbricata (= Opuntia imbricata), Grusonia schottii (= Opuntia schottii), Cylindropuntia spinosior (= Opuntia spinosior), Parthenium incanum, Prosopis glandulosa, Prosopis velutina, Rhus microphylla (in ephemeral washes), Viguiera stenoloba, and Yucca spp. (Brown 1982b, MacMahon and Wagner 1985, Henrickson and Johnston 1986, MacMahon 1988, Dick-Peddie 1993). In the southern Chihuahuan Desert, stands are dominated by Larrea tridentata with Agave parryi (= Agave scabra), Cylindropuntia kleiniae (= Opuntia kleiniae), Cylindropuntia imbricata, and Yucca filifera (Huerta-Martínez et al. 2004). Stands of thornscrub dominated by Acacia constricta, Acacia neovernicosa, or Acacia greggii are included in this macrogroup, and can be especially prolific on limestone substrates (but not always). Sandy sites are often dominated or codominated by Artemisia filifolia, Atriplex canescens, Ephedra torreyana, Ephedra trifurca, Gutierrezia sarothrae, Poliomintha incana, Prosopis spp., Rhus microphylla, and Yucca elata. Lowland sites are often dominated by Atriplex canescens or Flourensia cernua, but under more saline conditions, Allenrolfea occidentalis, Sarcocornia utahensis, Suaeda moquinii, Tidestromia carnosa, or other halophytic plants may be present to codominant. The widespread, invasive Prosopis glandulosa may also be present to dominant in these lowland sites. Many stands lack a herbaceous understory layer and develop a pebbly desert pavement on the soil surface sometimes with scattered grasses and forbs. If present, the understory is a sparse to moderately dense herbaceous layer dominated by graminoids. Grasses are common but generally have lower cover than shrubs. Associated graminoid species may include Bothriochloa barbinodis, Bouteloua curtipendula, Bouteloua gracilis, Bouteloua hirsuta, Bouteloua ramosa, Dasyochloa pulchella, Muhlenbergia porteri, Muhlenbergia setifolia, Pleuraphis mutica, Scleropogon brevifolius, and Setaria leucopila. On sandy sites, Achnatherum hymenoides, Bouteloua eriopoda, Muhlenbergia pungens, and Sporobolus flexuosus are common. Graminoid species on often saline, bottomland sites may include Distichlis spicata, Panicum obtusum, Pleuraphis mutica, Scleropogon brevifolius, and Sporobolus airoides. Forb species are often present, but have low cover.
Dynamics: In the U.S., much of this desert scrubland is thought to be a result of recent expansion of Larrea tridentata sometimes with Prosopis glandulosa into former desert grasslands and steppe in the last 150 years as a result of a combination of drought, overgrazing by livestock, wind and water erosion, and/or decreases in fire over the last 70-250 years from fire suppression and fine-fuel removal by livestock, and changes in the seasonal distribution of precipitation (Buffington and Herbel 1965, Herbel et al. 1972, Humphrey 1974, Ahlstrand 1979, McLaughlin and Bowers 1982, Gibbens et al. 1983, Hennessy et al. 1983, Donart 1984, Brown and Archer 1987, Schlesinger et al. 1990, Dick-Peddie 1993, McPherson 1995, Gibbens et al. 2005). Seed dispersion by livestock is an additional factor in the increase of Prosopis glandulosa (Brown and Archer 1987). It is believed that Prosopis glandulosa stands formerly occurred in relatively minor amounts and were largely confined to drainages until cattle distributed seed upland from the bosques into desert grasslands (Brown and Archer 1987, 1989). This macrogroup also includes invasive Flourensia cernua shrublands that occur in former (degraded) tobosa (Pleuraphis mutica) flats and loamy plains. Presence of Scleropogon brevifolius is common in these invasive stands. Dick-Peddie (1993) suggested that absence of Flourensia cernua as codominant and presence of Dasyochloa pulchella, Acourtia nana, and Yucca elata may be indicators of recent conversion of desert grasslands into desert scrub, but more research is needed. Conversely, sparse understory Larrea tridentata shrublands on remnant early Holocene erosional surfaces often with shallow calcareous soils and desert pavement may indicate pre-historic distributions of Larrea tridentata desert scrub in the Chihuahuan Desert (Stein and Ludwig 1979, Muldavin et al. 2000b).

Historical natural-ignition fires were relatively small, probably 10-15 acres in size. Repeated fire is thought to help maintain a general mosaic pattern between open grassland and shrub-dominated areas (Johnston 1963). Wright et al. (1976) found that Prosopis glandulosa is very fire-tolerant when only 3 years old. Most plants resprout after being top-killed by fire. Thus, prior to livestock grazing reducing fire frequency, repeated grassland fires probably maintained lower stature of shrubs and prevented new establishment by killing seedlings.

Drought is a relatively common occurrence in this desert scrub, generally occurring every 10-15 years and lasting 2-3 years with occasional long-term drought periods (10-15 years duration). Prosopis spp. and other shrubs have extensive root systems that allow them to exploit deep-soil water that is unavailable to shallower rooted grasses and cacti (Burgess 1995). This strategy works well, especially during drought. However, on sites that have well-developed argillic or calcic soil horizons that limit infiltration and storage of winter moisture in the deeper soil layers, Prosopis spp. invasion can be limited to a few, small individuals (McAuliffe 1995). This has implications in plant geography and desert grassland restoration work in the southwestern United States.
Environmental Description: This macrogroup includes the extensive desert scrub that occurs in the broad desert basins and flats to gently sloping alluvial plains extending up onto dissected gravelly alluvial fans and moderately steep piedmont slopes (bajadas), and foothills in the Chihuahuan Desert below the chaparral zone (Brown 1982b, MacMahon and Wagner 1985, Henrickson and Johnston 1986, MacMahon 1988, Dick-Peddie 1993, Muldavin et al. 2000b). Elevation ranges from 1000-2000 m.

Soil/substrate/hydrology: Substrates frequently include coarse-textured loams on well-drained, gravelly plains and slopes with, typically non-saline, and frequently calcareous soils, often with a petrocalcic layer and derived from limestone, or to a lesser degree igneous rocks. However, substrates are variable and include sandy plains, coppice dunes and sandsheets that often occur on the leesides of large playas in basins where sand accumulates. Soils are fine-textured, often saline (silts, clay loams and clays) on alluvial flats and around playas, as well as in river floodplains. Here water tables are generally shallow but may fluctuate within reach of deep-rooted plants, and in most places is high enough that salts accumulate on the surface of the soil (Brown 1982b, MacMahon and Wagner 1985, Henrickson and Johnston 1986, MacMahon 1988, Dick-Peddie 1993). Stands can extend upslope on to colluvial slopes with cobbly skeletal soils (Muldavin et al. 2000b).
Geographic Range: This desert scrub macrogroup forms the matrix vegetation in the Chihuahuan Desert and extends north up Rio Grande river valley and south into northern Mexico.
Nations: MX, US
States/Provinces: AZ, MXCH, MXCO, MXDU, MXNU, MXSO, NM, TX
US Forest Service Ecoregions (2007)
Domain Name:
Division Name:
Province Name: Southwest Plateau and Plains Dry Steppe and Shrub Province
Province Code: 315    Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Section Name: White Mountains-San Francisco Peaks-Mogollon Rim Section
Section Code: M313A     Occurrence Status: Confident or certain
Omernik Ecoregions:
Plot Analysis Summary:
Confidence Level: Moderate
Confidence Level Comments:
Grank: GNR
Greasons:
Concept Lineage:
Predecessors:
Obsolete Names:
Obsolete Parents:
Synonomy: > Chihuahuan Deciduous Desert Scrub (Wood et al. 1999)
> Chihuahuan Deciduous Desert Scrub (Muldavin et al. 1998d)
> Chihuahuan Desert Scrub (Larrea Scrub Phase) (Henrickson and Johnston 1986)
> Chihuahuan Desert Scrub (Mixed Desert Scrub Phase) (Henrickson and Johnston 1986)
= Chihuahuan Desertscrub (Brown et al. 1979)
= Chihuahuan Desertscrub - 153 (Brown et al. 1979)
= Chihuahuan Desertscrub - 153.2 (Brown et al. 1998)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Creosotebush-Tarbush Series - 153.21 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Creosotebush-Tarbush Series - 153.21 (Brown et al. 1998)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Creosotebush-Tarbush Series, Flourensia cernua Association - 153.214 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Creosotebush-Tarbush Series, Larrea divaricata-Flourensia cernua Association - 153.213 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Creosotebush-Tarbush Series, Larrea divaricata-Parthenium incanum-Mixed Scrub Association - 153.212 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mesquite Series - 153.24 (Brown et al. 1998)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mesquite Series - 153.24 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mesquite Series, Prosopis juliflora glandulosa - Artemisia filifolia Association - 153.242 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mesquite Series, Prosopis juliflora glandulosa (shrub hummock) Association - 153.241 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mixed Scrub - Succulent - 153.25 (Brown et al. 1998)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mixed Scrub Series - 153.26 (Brown et al. 1979)
>< Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mixed Scrub Series, Fouquieria splendens-Mixed Scrub Association - 153.261 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mixed Shrub Series, Psorothamnus scoparius - Artemisia filifolia - Atriplex canescens / Mixed Grass-Forb type (Dick-Peddie 1993)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Mixed Shrub Series, Psorothamnus scoparius - Artemisia filifolia - Oryzopsis hymenoides - Sporobolus spp. type (Dick-Peddie 1993)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Saltbush Series - 153.26 (Brown et al. 1998)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Saltbush Series - 153.27 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Saltbush Series, Atriplex canescens Association - 153.272 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Saltbush Series, Suaeda torreyana Association - 153.271 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Sandpaperbush Series - 153.23 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Sandpaperbush Series - 153.23 (Brown et al. 1998)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Sandpaperbush Series, Mortonia scabrella-Rhus microphylla Association - 153.232 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Sandpaperbush Series, Mortonia scabrella Association - 153.231 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Succulent Series - 153.25 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Succulent Series, Agave lechuguilla-Yucca spp. Association - 153.252 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Succulent Series, Agave lechuguilla Association - 153.251 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Succulent Series, Opuntia spp.-Agave spp.-Larrea divaricata Association - 153.253 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Whitethorn Series - 153.22 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Whitethorn Series - 153.22 (Brown et al. 1998)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Whitethorn Series, Acacia neovernicosa-Larrea divaricata Association - 153.222 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Chihuahuan Desertscrub, Whitethorn Series, Acacia neovernicosa Association - 153.221 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Creosotebush - Tarbush (508) (Shiflet 1994)
>< Grama -Muhly - Threeawn (713) (Shiflet 1994)
> Grama Grass - Scrub Series - 143.11 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Grama Grass - Scrub Series, Bouteloua eriopoda-Prosopis juliflora Association - 143.112 (Brown et al. 1979)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-1) Deep Sand (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-1) Loamy (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-1) Sandy (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Deep Sand (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Gravelly (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Gravelly Loam (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Gravelly Sand (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Limestone Hills (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Limy (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Loamy (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) SD2 Hills (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) SD2 Malpais (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-2) Sandy (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-3) Loamy (NRCS 2006a)
> MLRA 42 - Southern Desertic Basin (SD-4) Loamy (NRCS 2006a)
>< Mesquite (729) (Shiflet 1994)
> Mesquite (western type): 242 (Eyre 1980)
> Mixed Grass - Scrub Series - 143.15 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Mixed Grass - Scrub Series, Mixed Grass-Prosopis juliflora Association - 143.152 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Mixed Shrub Series, Poliomintha incana - Rhus trilobata / Eriogonum annuum - Abronia angustifolia type (Dick-Peddie 1993)
> Mixed Shrub Series, Prosopis glandulosa / Gutierrezia sarothrae Sparse Mixed Grass-Forbs (dunes) type (Dick-Peddie 1993)
> Sacaton - Scrub Series - 143.14 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Sacaton - Scrub Series, Sporobolus wrightii-Prosopis juliflora Association - 143.142 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Shrub - Scrub Disclimax Series - 143.16 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Shrub - Scrub Series, Gutierrezia sarothrae-Prosopis juliflora Association - 143.165 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Shrub - Scrub Series, Haplopappus tenuisectus-Prosopis juliflora Association - 143.163 (Brown et al. 1979)
? Sideoats Grama - Sumac - Juniper (735) (Shiflet 1994)
> Tobosa Grass - Scrub Series - 143.12 (Brown et al. 1979)
> Tobosa Grass - Scrub Series, Hilaria mutica-Prosopis juliflora Association - 143.122 (Brown et al. 1979)
Concept Author(s): D.E. Brown, C.H. Lowe, and C.P. Pase (1979)
Author of Description: K.A. Schulz and E.H. Muldavin
Acknowledgements:
Version Date: 05Nov2015
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