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Abundances of Coplanted Native Bunchgrasses and Crested Wheatgrass after 13 Years

Aleta M. Nafus, Tony J. Svejcar, David C. Ganskopp, Kirk W. Davies
Rangeland ecology & management 2015 v.68 no.2 pp. 211-214
Elymus elymoides, Artemisia, Hesperostipa comata, Pseudoroegneria spicata, steppes, Achnatherum thurberianum, plant density, Leymus cinereus, indigenous species, planting, Festuca idahoensis, Poa secunda, Agropyron cristatum
Crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum [L] Gaertm) has been seeded on more than 5 million hectares in western North America because it establishes more readily than native bunchgrasses. Currently, there is substantial interest in reestablishing native species in sagebrush steppe, but efforts to reintroduce native grasses into crested wheatgrass stands have been largely unsuccessful, and little is known about the long-term dynamics of crested wheatgrass/native species mixes. We examined the abundance of crested wheatgrass and seven native sagebrush steppe bunchgrasses planted concurrently at equal low densities in nongrazed and unburned plots. Thirteen years post establishment, crested wheatgrass was the dominant bunchgrass, with a 10-fold increase in density. Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer), Thurber’s needlegrass (Achnatherum thurberianum (Piper) Barkworth), basin wildrye (Leymus cinereus [Scribn. & Merr.] A. Löve), and Sandberg bluegrass (Poa secunda J. Presl) maintained their low planting density, whereas bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata [Pursh] A. Löve), needle-and-thread (Hesperostipa comata [Trin. & Rupr.] Barkworth), and squirreltail (Elymus elymoides [Raf.] Swezey) densities declined. Our results suggest that densities of native bunchgrasses planted with crested wheatgrass are unlikely to increase and that some species may only persist at low levels. The high recruitment of crested wheatgrass suggests that coplanting of some native bunchgrasses may be a viable way of avoiding crested wheatgrass monocultures when this species is necessary for rehabilitation or restoration.