Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare) land conversion and productivity in the plains of Sonora, Mexico

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Journal Article
Biological Conservation, 2006, 127 pp. 62 - 71
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Bufflelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare syn. Cenchrus ciliaris) is an African grass that has been widely introduced in subtropical arid regions of the world to improve rangelands for cattle production. However, it can have a negative effect on the diversity of native plant communities. Buffelgrass was introduced to Sonora, Mexico in the 1970s as a means to bolster the cattle industry. Desmonte, the process by which native desert vegetation is removed in preparation for buffelgrass seeding, alters the land surface such that buffelgrass plots are easily detectable from aerial and Landsat satellite images. We estimated the extent of conversion to buffelgrass in a 1,850,000 ha area centered on Hermosillo, from MSS and TM images from 1973, 1983, 1990 and 2000. We then compared the relative above-ground productivity of buffelgrass to native vegetation using Normalized Difference Vegetation Index values (NDVI) from Landsat and Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) satellite sensor systems. Buffelgrass pastures have increased from just 7700 ha in 1973 to over 140,000 ha in 2000. Buffelgrass pastures now cover 8% of the land surface in the study area. Buffelgrass pastures have lower net primary productivity, estimated by MODIS NDVI values, than unconverted desert land. The desmonte process removes trees and shrubs, while the buffelgrass plantings are often sparse, leading to an apparent net loss in net primary production from land conversion. We recommend that the desmonte process be discontinued until its efficacy and safety for native ecosystems can be established, and that a comprehensive plan for preserving biodiversity while accomodating economic development be established for this region of the Sonoran Desert in Mexico.
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