Ventenata (Ventenata dubia) response to grazing and prescribed fire on the Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass prairie.
The exotic annual grass ventenata (Ventenata dubia L.) is raising concern as it rapidly invades multiple ecosystem types within the United States, including sagebrush steppe, ponderosa pine forests, woodlands, and much of the Palouse and Pacific Northwest Bunchgrass Prairie (PNB). Despite increasing attention, little is known about the invasion dynamics of ventenata, especially its response to disturbances such as grazing and fire. In this study, we examined how cattle grazing and prescribed fire affect the abundance (standing crop, cover, frequency, and density) of ventenata and other plant groups on the PNB over time using two separate long-term studies established in 2004. The first study (Cattle Grazing) looked at the 14-yr effect of cattle grazing exclusion on ventenata aboveground biomass and cover. Our second study (Grazing and Prescribed Fire) examined main and interactive effects of cattle exclusion and prescribed fire on ventenata over three sampling periods (2008, 2016, and 2018). We documented a 30% increase in ventenata cover and 55% increase in frequency on the PNB over the past 15 yr, including areas that were not disturbed by fire or cattle grazing. We found only weak evidence that cattle grazing increased ventenata standing crop when compared with cattle-excluded paddocks, something that could be related to timing of use. There was no evidence that prescribed burning impacted the response of ventenata on its own. However, we found some evidence of interactions between cattle grazing and prescribed fire that suggests prescribed burning could help reduce the abundance of ventenata in areas grazed by livestock. These studies reinforce the important differences between ventenata and other invasive winter annuals in grasslands and clarify a need for research that focuses primarily on the dynamics between this relatively new exotic species in grasslands and the many ecosystems it now inhabits.