Understanding mechanisms of invasion and restoring lands impacted by non-native annual grasses
Majeski, Michelle Lynn
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European settlement and development of rangelands in the western U.S. has led to a shift in vegetation from native species to introduced species, some of which have become weedy and invasive. Effects of invasive plant species can vary but often include replacing native vegetation, altering ecosystems, affecting wildlife that relied on the native plants for food and shelter, and toxicity to livestock. Two introduced annual grasses of concern are Ventenata dubia and Bromus tectorum. These grasses are at different stages in their invasion in the western U.S. Ventenata dubia is a recent invasive species in the past ten years and B. tectorum has been dominant in the Intermountain West since the mid-1900s. Three independent studies were conducted to understand characteristics of V. dubia invasion and to test whether a seasonal priority effect could be shifted to Pseudoroegneria spicata to outcompete B. tectorum in range/pasturelands. A full-factorial design was executed in a greenhouse setting to examine if a plant-soil feedback contributes to V. dubia invasion and if V. dubia preferred specific nutrients for growth. Ventenata dubia biomass, shoot height and number of leaves and tillers (per plant) were higher when grown with field soil inoculum compared to sterilized greenhouse soil. Ventenata dubia growth varied among nutrient treatments, but trended higher with a full nutrient solution. A nested observational study was conducted to examine abiotic and biotic characteristics associated with V. dubia infestations. Ventenata dubia was positively associated with non-native perennial grasses and negatively associated with native perennial grasses, bare ground/rock and soil potassium concentration. A randomized split-plot design was performed in B. tectorum-infested range and pasturelands to test whether timing of herbicide application and seeding of P. spicata could create a seasonal priority effect for P. spicata. Bromus tectorum had lower cover and biomass (per m2) with spring herbicide application. Higher P. spicata density, cover and biomass resulted with spring seeding after B. tectorum was reduced. These studies show that established and seeded native perennial grasses can compete with nonnative, invasive annual grasses. When existing management tools (herbicide and revegetation) are applied in a different way, native perennial grasses benefit.