Bacteria May Be Weapon Against Cheatgrass Invading the West

Cheatgrass now 'dominates' the Great Basin
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 14, 2016 5:53 PM CST
Bacteria May Be Weapon Against Cheatgrass Invading the West
In this June 20, 2012 file photo provided by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, one of BLM's botanists points out the growing pattern of invasive cheatgrass in southwest Idaho.   (AP Photo/U.S. Bureau of Land Management, File)

Cheatgrass is about as bad as it sounds. The invasive plant sends out roots in the spring that deprive nearby plants of water, then dries out in the summer as it transforms into extremely effective tinder for wildfires to then kill competing nearby native plants, not to mention the habitat for hundreds of species of wildlife. So how to stop it? Scientists are hoping that a new approach using soil bacteria might work, reports the Los Angeles Times. But their optimism is cautious: "It's unlikely that any one technology will be the magic bullet," a research ecologist says. "Cheatgrass has come to dominate our lands. Chances are there are fundamental problems in the health of the land, or how we are treating the land."

The idea is that, possibly in combination with herbicide, the bacteria will attack the root systems of cheatgrass will help slow its growth just long enough to allow native plants to get established and fend off the invader themselves. Experiments are underway in Idaho, which is part of the Great Basin where cheatgrass swept through "like wildfire" and permanently altered ecosystems, reports the Daily Camera. It was first introduced in the US as early as the 1860s, and by the early 1900s had extensively populated parts of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, Nevada, Utah, and even parts of California. As a result, the sage grouse bird in particular is among many species fighting to survive in the changed landscape. (One of the world's worst invasive species has made its way to Florida.)

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