Annual grass invasion in sagebrush-steppe: The relative importance of climate, soil properties and biotic interactions

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The invasion by winter-annual grasses (AGs) such as Bromus tectorum into sagebrush steppe throughout the western USA is a classic example of a biological invasion with multiple, interacting climate, soil and biotic factors driving the invasion, although few studies have examined all components together. Across a 6000-km2 area of the northern Great Basin, we conducted a field assessment of 100 climate, soil, and biotic (functional group abundances, diversity) factors at each of 90 sites that spanned an invasion gradient ranging from 0 to 100 % AG cover. We first determined which biotic and abiotic factors had the strongest correlative relationships with AGs and each resident functional group. We then used regression and structural equation modeling to explore how multiple ecological factors interact to influence AG abundance. Among biotic interactions, we observed negative relationships between AGs and biodiversity, perennial grass cover, resident species richness, biological soil crust cover and shrub density, whereas perennial and annual forb cover, tree cover and soil microbial biomass had no direct linkage to AG. Among abiotic factors, AG cover was strongly related to climate (increasing cover with increasing temperature and aridity), but had weak relationships with soil factors. Our structural equation model showed negative effects of perennial grasses and biodiversity on AG cover while integrating the negative effects of warmer climate and positive influence of belowground processes on resident functional groups. Our findings illustrate the relative importance of biotic interactions and climate on invasive abundance, while soil properties appear to have stronger relationships with resident biota than with invasives.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Annual grass invasion in sagebrush-steppe: The relative importance of climate, soil properties and biotic interactions
Series title Oecologia
DOI 10.1007/s00442-016-3583-8
Volume 181
Issue 2
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
Description 15 p.
First page 543
Last page 557
Country United States
State Oregon
Other Geospatial Great Basin
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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