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Widespread invasion of riparian ecosystems by the large bamboo-like grass Arundo donax L. has altered community structure and ecological function of streams in California. This study evaluated the influence of wildfire on A. donax invasion by investigating its relative rate of reestablishment versus native riparian species after wildfire burned 300 ha of riparian woodlands along the Santa Clara River in southern California in October 2003. Post-fire A. donax growth rates and productivity were compared to those of native woody riparian species in plots established before and after the fire. Arundo donax resprouted within days after the fire and exhibited higher growth rates and productivity compared to native riparian plants. Arundo donax grew 3–4 times faster than native woody riparian plants—up to a mean of 2.62 cm day−1—and reached up to 2.3 m in height less than 3 months after the fire. One year post-fire, A. donax density was nearly 20 times higher and productivity was 14–24 times higher than for native woody species. Three mechanisms—fire-adapted phenology, high growth rate, and growth response to nutrient enrichment—appear to promote the preemption of native woody riparian species by A. donax after fire. This greater dominance of A. donax after wildfire increased the susceptibility of riparian woodlands along the Santa Clara River to subsequent fire, potentially creating an invasive plant-fire regime cycle. Moreover, A. donax infestations appear to have allowed the wildfire to cross the broad bed of the Santa Clara River from the north, allowing thousands of acres of shrubland to the south to burn.


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