Evaluating the effectiveness of low soil-disturbance treatments for improving native plant establishment in stable crested wheatgrass stands.
Past seedings of crested wheatgrass (Agropyron cristatum [L.] Gaertn. and A. desertorum [Fisch. ex Link] Schult.) have the potential to persist as stable, near-monospecific stands, thereby necessitating active intervention to initiate greater species diversity and structural complexity of vegetation. However, the success of suppression treatments and native species seedings is limited by rapid recovery of crested wheatgrass and the influx of exotic annual weeds associated with herbicidal control and mechanical soil disturbances. We designed a long-term study to evaluate the efficacy of low-disturbance herbicide and seed-reduction treatments applied together or alone and either once or twice before seeding native species. Consecutive herbicide applications reduced crested wheatgrass density for up to 6-7 yr depending on study site, but seed removal did not reduce crested wheatgrass abundance; however, in some cases combining herbicide application with seed removal significantly increased densities of seeded species relative to herbicide alone, especially for the site with a more northern aspect. Although our low-disturbance treatments avoided the pitfalls of secondary exotic weed influx, we conclude that crested wheatgrass suppression must reduce established density to values much lower than 4-7 plants/m2, a range that has not been obtained by ours or any previous study, in order to diminish its competitive influence on seed native species. In addition, our results indicated that site differences in environmental stress and land-use legacies exacerbate the well-recognized limitations of native species establishment and persistence in the Great Basin region.