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Exotic and native herbs in sagebrush steppe: diagnoses, prognoses, and prescriptions
Matt Germino, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID, and Beth Leger, University of Nevada, Reno, NV
Changes in abundance and species composition of herbaceous communities have been one of the most profound environmental changes in the Western US. Conversion of native perennial to annual herb monocultures that may progress towards exotic herb communities is common across a wide range of hydroclimatological conditions. In the intermountain west, these conditions range from red brome in warm deserts, to cheatgrass in sagebrush steppe, to smooth brome and tarweed in higher elevations. These vegetation changes are all linked to land use, and are reinforced by plant-soil or fire feedbacks that are linked to the desertification process. The feedbacks have ultimately impeded long-term restoration efforts.
New perspectives and approaches are needed in dealing with invasive herbs, and are fortunately under development in a variety of agency and university programs. New perspectives may entail re-evaluation of species like sagebrush that normally are not viewed as having agro-economic merit in rangelands, but may have important implications for exotic-herb invasion and diversity of native herbs. Insights from protected communities on kipukas and other preserves offer important insight on floristic tendencies of sagebrush steppe. Opportunities exist to enhance post-fire rehabilitation and re-vegetation and management of fuels and invasives, particularly with respect to short-term soil exposure and long-term plant community health. Opportunities also exist for introducing concepts from evolutionary ecology to improve native plant materials for restoration, such as propagation and increase of natives that persist with cheatgrass. The most transformative and comprehensive advances will likely result from improved coordination guided by new programs such as the Great Basin Research and Management Partnership and USDA Bromus network. Effective management of widespread issues of exotic invasions and native plant diversity will require continued efforts to cross agency, university, geographic, and disciplinary boundaries to enable adaptation of land management.