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Using Herbicides to Restore Native Species and Improve Habitat on Rangelands and Wildlands

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Invasive winter annual grasses are one of the largest threats to the arid and semiarid rangelands and wildlands in the Intermountain West of North America. The most impactful species include downy brome (Bromus tectorum), medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae), ventenata (Ventenata dubia), and to a lesser extent Japanese brome (Bromus japonicus), feral rye (Secale cereale), and jointed goatgrass (Aegilops cylindrica). These winter annuals can germinate in the fall, winter or early spring, exploiting soil moisture and nutrients before native plant communities begin active growth in the spring. These characteristics impart a competitive advantage in the perennial grass dominated natural landscapes of the Intermountain West. Downy brome, a winter annual grass native to Eurasia, is the most widespread invasive species in the western US covering an estimated 22 million ha and a projected 14% annual spread rate. Invasive winter annuals negatively impact these ecosystems by depleting soil moisture and nutrients, reducing native plant productivity and diversity, altering fire frequency, and diminishing pollinator and wildlife habitat. Large amounts of litter which act as a fuel source are left after these grasses senesce early in the summer, greatly increasing the frequency and spread of wildfires in invaded areas. Historically, fire frequency in the 41 million ha sagebrush steppe occurred every 60 to 110 years, but this interval has been shortened to less than every five years since the introduction of invasive annual grasses. Annual grasses quickly (re)invade after these fires while sagebrush (Artemisia spp.), the dominant vegetation type in the sagebrush steppe, can take decades to recover. Therefore, the altered fire regime has resulted in a substantial loss of sagebrush and converted millions of hectares into monocultures of winter annual grass. This altered fire regime also negatively impacted the abundance of small mammals, birds, larger browsing mammals, and pollinating insects in the sagebrush steppe. Managing the weed seedbank is the key to long-term control of invasive winter annual grasses on rangelands and wildlands. Past herbicides have provided adequate short-term control but have often failed due to annual grasses reinvading from the soil seedbank. Indaziflam is a new tool for land managers to achieve multi-year control of the annual grass seedbank while promoting restoration of native species. As wildlife and pollinator habitat continue to be degraded and fragmented through development and agricultural production, indaziflam is a viable option for restoring the rangelands and wildlands impacted by winter annual grasses in the Intermountain West that serve as critical habitat areas.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: April 1, 2020

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