US Forest Service Research & Development
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  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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The magical experience of catching a jack rabbit in the Mojave Desert

Tara BB. Bishop

Research Ecologist; Maintaining Resilient Dryland Ecosystems (formerly Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems Science)
735 North 500 East
United States

Phone: 801-356-5112
Contact Tara BB. Bishop

Current Research

Deserts are literally the coolest places on earth! My current research interests involve desert community ecology focusing on how disturbance, such as wildfire, climate change, and grazing, affect the plant community. Recent research projects include using drones to quantify effects of invasion of exotic grasses in rare endemic plant habitat in the Mojave desert, how extreme drought and different grazing strategies will alter desert perennial grasslands on the Colorado Plateau, and how changes in preciptation timing and wildfire affect plant competition and invasion patterns by modifying community trophic interactions (i.e. rodent consumers). I am also interested in using GIS platforms and remote sensing to track and map invasive grass species across the major deserts of the Western United States, and using hyperspectral imagery to link plant species to distribution and ecosystem change. Another cool project I am working on is using historical repeat photography to be able to quantify plant community change in the Colorado Plateau national parks as early as 1903.

Why This Research is Important

“We didn’t start the fire” may be Billy Joel’s way of passing the buck on the world’s problems but unfortunately, it doesn’t quite apply now. It turns out, we are starting the fires. Fire regimes are changing worldwide and in the United States, humans have tripled the length of the fire season along with hotter and drier conditions linked to human accelerated climate change. Increased human ignitions of wildfire is of particular concern because of another major ecological issue: invasion of exotic grasses. 

Mechanisms of successful exotic grass invasions are critical in understanding how, where, and why invasion may happen and what can be done about it. Invasion of exotic grasses increase they frequency and severity of wildfire in the US by providing ample fine fuel in otherwise fuel limited communities. Likelihood of wildfire increases 2-4 times when exotic grasses are present. However, less is known for how these invasions establish to the level of causing catastrophic fire. Life history traits such as phenology differences, prolific seed production, and typically “fast” growth as compared to natives are all linked to exotic invasion success. My research focused on elucidating mechanisms driving exotic grass invasion success in the context of wildfire, such as precipitation timing, top-down control from herbivores, and competitive interactions.

As wildfire is increasing across the globe, this research provides timely and critical evidence of community level mechanisms of successful plant invasions. This will continue to be necessary if we are to be successful in mitigating the life-threatening detriments of climate change and wildfire.


  • Brigham Young University, Phd, Ecology Invasion Ecology, Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation 2019
  • Mississippi State University, Ms Biology Concurrent enrollment teaching certificate 2012
  • Brigham Young University, Bs Biology Composite Teaching Professional Secondary Education license for the biological sciences in Utah 2008

Professional Experience

  • Ecologist, US Geological Survey, Moab
    2019 -
  • Science Educator, Alpine School District, Timpanogos High School
    2008 - 2014

Professional Organizations

  • Ecological Society of America, Southwest Chapter Chair

Featured Publications & Products

Citations of non US Forest Service Publications

  • Bishop TBB, Nusink BC, Lee Molinari R, Taylor J, St. Clair SB (2020) Fire and fall precipitation have neutral to positive effects on cheatgrass and sagebrush establishment and growth. Ecosphere 11(1):e03019. 10.1002/ecs2.3019

  • Bishop TBB, Gill RA, McMillan BR, St. Clair SB (2019) Fire, rodent herbivory, and plant competition: implications for invasion and altered fire regimes in the Mojave Desert. Oecologia, 192, 155–167, 10.1007/s00442-019-04562-2

  •  *Lee Molinari R, *Bishop TBB, Bekker MF, Kitchen SG, Allphin L, St. Clair SB (2019) Creosote growth rate and reproduction increase in postfire environments. Ecol Evol. 9: 12897-12905. 10.1002/ece3.5771

  •  St. Clair SB, Bishop TBB (2019) Loss of biotic resistance and high propagule pressure promote invasive grass‐fire cycles. Journal of Ecology107(4), 1995-2005.  10.1111/1365-2745.13156

  • Bishop TBB, Munson S, Gill RA, Belnap J, Petersen SL, & St. Clair SB (2019) Spatiotemporal patterns of cheatgrass invasion in Colorado Plateau National Parks. Landscape Ecology34(4), 925-941. 10.1007/s10980-019-00817-8

  • Gill RA, O’Connor R. C., Rhodes A., Bishop TBB, Laughlin DC, & St. Clair SB (2019) Niche opportunities for invasive annual plants in dryland ecosystems are controlled by disturbance, trophic interactions, and rainfall. Oecologia, 1-11. 10.1007/s00442-018-4137-z

  • Day JD, Bishop TBB, & St. Clair SB (2018) Fire and plant invasion, but not rodents, alter ant community abundance and diversity in a semi‐arid desert. Ecosphere9(7), e02344. 10.1002/ecs2.2344

  • Horn KJ, Bishop TBB, & St. Clair SB (2017). Precipitation timing and soil heterogeneity regulate the growth and seed production of the invasive grass red brome. Biological Invasions19(4), 1339-1350. 10.1007/s10530-016-1348-2

Last updated on : 07/08/2021