Understanding ecological interactions to improve management of Bromus tectorum in rangeland and cropland ecosystems
Orloff, Lesley Noelle
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Bromus tectorum L. (downy brome or cheatgrass) has been called the most dominant invasive plant species in the western United States. It is a barrier to restoration efforts in degraded lands and a serious weed problem for small grain growers. Investigating ecological interactions that play a mechanistic role in its success is a necessary step towards developing effective ecologically-based management strategies for B. tectorum. We investigated how biotic and abiotic factors impact interactions between B. tectorum and desired vegetation, with implications for restoration of lands dominated by B. tectorum and management of B. tectorum in small-grain cropping systems. Our research objectives were; 1) appraise the impact of relative size and soil nitrogen (N) availability on interactions between B. tectorum and Pseudoroegneria spicata (Pursh) A. Love (bluebunch wheatgrass), a species important in rangeland revegetation, and, 2) determine the impacts of Wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV), resource availability, and neighborhood characteristics on B. tectorum performance in a winter wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) system. Objective 1 was carried out in a greenhouse experiment with two trials, following an addition series factorial design with four density treatments for each species, three P. spicata size cohort treatments, and two N treatments. Regression analysis indicated that giving P. spicata an initial size advantage over B. tectorum increased its ability to both suppress and avoid suppression by B. tectorum. We also observed that while N availability increased productivity of both species, it did not change their competitive relationship. Objective 2 was explored in two trials of a field experiment using a split-plot design with N availability assigned to main plots, WSMV inoculation assigned to subplots, B. tectorum proximity to the nearest wheat row as a predictor, and neighborhood characteristics as covariates. Regression analysis indicated that in low and high N environments (compared to the recommended N rate), distance from row influenced individual B. tectorum biomass only in disease-free environments, suggesting that healthy wheat suppressed B. tectorum that was closest to the row. Wheat inoculated with WSMV did not suppress B. tectorum. In an intermediate N environment, increased distance from row increased B. tectorum performance only with WSMV inoculation.