Good News on Invasive Plants?
A recent post by Julianne Beck on the blog of the Chicago Botanic Garden (CBG) reports on an interesting new strategy for combating invasive plants. Specifically, CBG research scientist Andrea Kramer is testing a new approach to stopping the spread of cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) on the Colorado Plateau, which covers parts of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Cheatgrass is a Eurasian native and thrives in disturbed areas. It is highly flammable, poses a fire danger to homeowners, and has contributed to widespread wildfires on the Plateau. The wildfires in turn create conditions that promote further spread of this invasive plant. The spread of cheatgrass has been accompanied by a decline in native plants and wildlife, including the vulnerable sage grouse.
The strategy that Kramer is testing involves strains of native plants, such as wildflowers, that have adapted to areas infested with cheatgrass. Kramer calls these plants, simply, “winners”. The adaptations, such as growing roots deeper or faster, provide a competitive advantage against the invader.
If these native plants test well, then they will eventually be used in restoration work. The concept of using native plant winners is being applied to other environments, including wetlands here in Illinois.
It’s interesting to think of plants adapting so quickly to a changed environment. However, I’ve read that quick evolutionary changes have been documented in wolves and dogs in response to contact with humans. Why not the same with some plants, who (except for biennials) produce a new generation every year?
It’s nice to think that native plants are not just wimpy victims but can develop new strengths enabling them to beat back invasive species. Kind of like the young hero in the movie Karate Kid.
Is there an invasive plant you’d like to see foiled by a pumped up native?