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Ecological Characteristics of Sites Invaded by Buffelgrass (Pennisetum ciliare)

  • Scott R. Abella (a1), Lindsay P. Chiquoine (a1) and Dana M. Backer (a1)

Understanding the ecological characteristics of areas invaded and not invaded by exotic plants is a priority for invasive plant science and management. Buffelgrass is an invasive perennial species that managers view as a major threat to indigenous ecosystems of conservation lands in Australia, Mexico, the United States, and other locations where the species is not native. At 14 sites in Saguaro National Park in the Arizona Uplands of the Sonoran Desert, we compared the soil, vegetation, and soil seed bank of patches invaded and not invaded by buffelgrass. Abiotic variables, such as slope aspect and soil texture, did not differ between buffelgrass patches and patches without buffelgrass. In contrast, variables under primarily biotic control differed between patch types. Soil nutrients, such as organic C and NO3–N, were approximately twofold greater in buffelgrass compared with nonbuffelgrass patches. Average native species richness was identical (14 species 100 m−2) between patch types, but native plant cover was 43% lower in buffelgrass patches. Unexpectedly, native seed-bank densities did not differ significantly between patch types and were 40% greater than buffelgrass seed density below buffelgrass canopies. Results suggest that (1) soil nutrient status should not be unfavorable for native plant colonization at buffelgrass sites if buffelgrass is treated; (2) at least in the early stages of buffelgrass patch formation (studied patches were about 10 yr old), native vegetation species were not excluded, but rather, their cover was reduced; and (3) native soil seed banks were not reduced in buffelgrass patches.

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