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Invasive weeds in rangelands: Species, impacts, and management

  • Joseph M. DiTomaso (a1)
Abstract

Rangeland and pastures comprise about 42% of the total land area of the United States. About three-quarters of all domestic livestock depend upon grazing lands for survival. Many ranges have had domestic stock grazing for more than 100 years and, as a result, the plant composition has changed greatly from the original ecosystems. Western rangelands previously dominated by perennial bunchgrasses have been converted, primarily through overgrazing, to annual grasslands that are susceptible to invasion by introduced dicots. Today there are more than 300 rangeland weeds in the United States. Some of the most problematic include Bromus tectorum, Euphorbia esula, Centaurea solstitialis, C. diffusa, C. maculosa, and a number of other Centaurea species. In total, weeds in rangeland cause an estimated loss of $2 billion annually in the United States, which is more than all other pests combined. They impact the livestock industry by lowering yield and quality of forage, interfering with grazing, poisoning animals, increasing costs of managing and producing livestock, and reducing land value. They also impact wildlife habitat and forage, deplete soil and water resources, and reduce plant and animal diversity. Numerous mechanical and cultural control options have been developed to manage noxious rangeland weeds, including mowing, prescribed burning, timely grazing, and perennial grass reseeding or interseeding. In addition, several herbicides are registered for use on rangelands and most biological control programs focus on noxious rangeland weed control. Successful management of noxious weeds on rangeland will require the development of a long-term strategic plan incorporating prevention programs, education materials and activities, and economical and sustainable multi-year integrated approaches that improve degraded rangeland communities, enhance the utility of the ecosystem, and prevent reinvasion or encroachment by other noxious weed species.

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