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Mowing Wyoming Big Sagebrush Communities With Degraded Herbaceous Understories: Has a Threshold Been Crossed?

Davies, Kirk W., Bates, Jonathan D., Nafus, Aleta M.
Rangeland ecology & management 2012 v.65 no.5 pp. 498
Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis, Bromus tectorum, annual grasslands, annual weeds, annuals, forbs, grasses, herbaceous plants, indigenous species, introduced plants, land restoration, mowing, perennials, plant communities, shrublands, understory, vegetation cover, weed control, Oregon
Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis [Beetle & A. Young] S.L. Welsh) plant communities with degraded native herbaceous understories occupy vast expanses of the western United States. Restoring the native herbaceous understory in these communities is needed to provide higher-quality wildlife habitat, decrease the risk of exotic plant invasion, and increase forage for livestock. Though mowing is commonly applied in sagebrush communities with the objective of increasing native herbaceous vegetation, vegetation response to this treatment in degraded Wyoming big sagebrush communities is largely unknown. We compared mowed and untreated control plots in five Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities with degraded herbaceous understories in eastern Oregon for 3 yr posttreatment. Native perennial herbaceous vegetation did not respond to mowing, but exotic annuals increased with mowing. Density of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.), a problematic exotic annual grass, was 3.3-fold greater in the mowed than untreated control treatment in the third year posttreatment. Annual forb cover, largely consisting of exotic species, was 1.8-fold greater in the mowed treatment compared to the untreated control in the third year posttreatment. Large perennial grass cover was not influenced by mowing and remained below 2%. Mowing does not appear to promote native herbaceous vegetation in degraded Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities and may facilitate the conversion of shrublands to exotic annual grasslands. The results of this study suggest that mowing, as a stand-alone treatment, does not restore the herbaceous understory in degraded Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities. We recommend that mowing not be applied in Wyoming big sagebrush plant communities with degraded understories without additional treatments to limit exotic annuals and promote perennial herbaceous vegetation.