Causes for the widespread abundance of the alien grass Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) after fire in semiarid areas of western North America may include: (1) utilization of resources freed by the removal of fireintolerant plants; and (2) successful competition between B. tectorum and individual plants that survive fire. On a site in northwestern Nevada (USA), measurements of soil water content, plant water potential, aboveground biomass production, water use efficiency, and B. tectorum tiller density were used to determine if B. tectorum competes with either of two native species ( Stipa comata and Chrysothamnus viscidiflorus ) or simply uses unclaimed resources. Soil water content around native species occurring with B. tectorum was significantly lower ( P <0.05) than around individuals without B. tectorum nearby. Native species had significantly more negative plant water potential when they occurred with B. tectorum . Aboveground biomass was significantly higher for native species without B. tectorum . However, the carbon isotope ratio of leaves for native species with B. tectorum was not significantly different from individuals without B. tectorum . Thus, B. tectorum competes with native species for soil water and negatively affects their wate status and productivity, but the competition for water does not affect water use efficiency of the native species. These adverse effects of B. tectorum competition on the productivity and water status of native species are also evident at 12 years after a fire. This competitive ability of B. tectorum greatly enhances its capability to exploit soil resources after fire and to enhance its status in the community.
Oecologia – Springer Journals
Published: May 1, 1990
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