A spring rainfall pulse causes greater in situ photosynthetic upregulation for Bromus tectorum compared to co-occurring native herbaceous species.
The invasive grass Bromus tectorum fuels fires, displaces native species, and reduces wildlife habitat on sagebrush steppe throughout the western United States. Recently, it has spread from the Great Basin Desert into higher elevations of the eastern Sierra Nevada, where it coexists with natives but has not yet altered fire regimes. We evaluated effects of a springtime water pulse (+10 mm) in a drought year on photosynthesis for B. tectorum and co-occurring shallow-rooted native perennials Achnatherum hymenoides, Elymus elymoides, and Lupinus argenteus near the range limit of B. tectorum at ∼2175 m in California. Watered B. tectorum had the largest increase in stomatal conductance (27%) of the four species. Watering increased CO2 assimilation for B. tectorum by 78% over controls, compared to 17% for A. hymenoides, 2% for E. elymoides, and 29% for L. argenteus. Electron transport rate within Photosystem II increased for watered B. tectorum and A. hymenoides, but not for E. elymoides and L. argenteus. Instantaneous electron transport rate and carbon assimilation were more responsive for B. tectorum than natives following a spring water pulse during drought. Rapid upregulation of carbon uptake in spring in response to soil re-wetting during drought could facilitate B. tectorum spread at high elevation.