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Breeding Improved Grasses for Semiarid Rangelands

Asay, K.H., Chatterton, N.J., Jensen, K.B., Jones, T.A., Waldron, B.L., Horton, W.H.
Arid land research and management 2003 v.17 no.4 pp. 469-478
Agricultural Research Service, Agropyron cristatum, Agropyron fragile, Bromus tectorum, Taeniatherum caput-medusae subsp. asperum, breeding, cultivars, forage, genetic improvement, genetic variation, germplasm, grasses, grazing, habitats, indigenous species, livestock, rangelands, rye, semiarid zones, soil resources, vegetation, watersheds, weeds, wildlife, Utah
Vast areas of semiarid rangelands in western USA are severely degraded and infested with troublesome weeds such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) and medusahead rye (Taeniatherum asperum). Reseeding with appropriate plant materials that are adapted to the site and competitive enough to replace existing undesirable vegetation is often the most plausible way to reclaim such sites. Unfortunately, many of our native grasses are more difficult to establish and are not as competitive with these exotic weedy grasses as their introduced counterparts, including crested and Siberian wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum, A. desertorum, and A. fragile). Most native grasses did not evolve under intense management or in association with species as competitive as cheatgrass. Genetically improved germplasms and cultivars of native and introduced (naturalized) grasses have been and are being developed by the Forage and Range Research Laboratory (FRRL) of the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS) in cooperation with the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station (UAES) and other agencies. These plant materials have demonstrated the potential for increasing the genetic diversity, protecting watersheds and soil resources, and improving the habitat and grazing potential for livestock and wildlife on semiarid rangelands. Research is also in progress at FRRL to develop germplasm and methodology whereby introduced grasses may be used in combination with natives, and in some instances assist in the establishment of native stands. The proper choice of plant materials must be based on objective criteria if we are to protect our lands and natural resources from further degradation.