Effects of selection regime on invasive characteristics in an emerging biomass crop, switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.).
Production of biomass feedstock crops could produce substantial environmental benefits, but these will be sharply reduced if these crops become invasive. Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) is being bred for biomass production; these selective efforts may enhance invasive traits. To inform the assessment of invasive risk, undomesticated switchgrass strains were used as a baseline for comparison with strains bred for biomass production. In a three-year field experiment, we compared juvenile plant densities and survival, persistence of established plants, and aboveground biomass between selectively bred (cultivar) and undomesticated switchgrass strains. Cultivars had modestly greater third-year biomass and first-year plant densities than commercial ecotypes but lower survival and persistence; consequently, third-year plant densities did not significantly differ between cultivars and commercial ecotypes. Higher initial establishment and subsequent self-thinning in cultivars resulted in stands that were similar to those of commercial ecotypes. Therefore, our results do not suggest that the breeding of current cultivars of switchgrass enhanced juvenile and young-stand traits associated with invasiveness. Because biomass yields were not greatly different between cultivars and commercial ecotypes, use of the latter in biomass grasslands could provide functional benefits, including an enhanced habitat for native biodiversity and reduced pathogen loads, without incurring large losses in biomass production.