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The effects of precipitation and soil type on three invasive annual grasses in the western United States

Sheel Bansal, Jeremy J. James, Roger L. Sheley
Journal of arid environments 2014 v.104 pp. 38-42
Bromus tectorum, Western United States, soil water content, soil water, soil types, roots, root growth, rain, pH, invasive species, growth chambers, grasses, edaphic factors, dry matter partitioning, dry environmental conditions, climate, clay fraction, annuals, Ventenata dubia, Taeniatherum caput-medusae, annual weeds, soil nutrients, soil pH
Multiple species of annual grasses are invading sagebrush-steppe communities throughout the western United States. Most research has focused on dominant species such as Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), yet other, less studied annual grasses such as Taeniatherum caput-medusae (medusahead) and Ventenata dubia (ventenata) are spreading rapidly. Future precipitation regimes are expected to have less frequent but more intense rain events, which may affect soil moisture availability and favor these ‘newer’ invasives over cheatgrass. We conducted a full factorial, growth chamber study examining the effects of two watering regimes (small/frequent, large/infrequent rain pulses) across nine soil types on the growth of cheatgrass, medusahead and ventenata. We tested a hypothesis that medusahead or ventenata would have greater growth than cheatgrass with larger/infrequent rain events. The two watering regimes had relatively strong effects on soil water content, but generally did not impact plant growth. In contrast, variation in soil properties such as clay content, pH and soil N correlated with a two- to four-fold change in plant growth. The three invasive grass species generally respond similarly to changes in precipitation regimes and to edaphic factors. Nevertheless, medusahead had 30–40% overall greater root growth compared to the other species and a 15% increase in root growth in response to the large/infrequent watering treatment. Our findings reveal that 1) greater biomass allocation to roots and 2) greater responsiveness of root growth to differing precipitation regimes of medusahead may favor its ecological success over other invasive annuals under future climate scenarios.