An experimental test of resistance to cheatgrass invasion: Limiting resources at different life stages

Julie Beckstead, Carol K. Augspurger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Variable densities of an invasive species may represent variation in invasion resistance, due to variation in resource availability. This study determined whether low- and high-density cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) patches within a shadscale-bunchgrass community of western Utah, USA, can be explained by variation in resource availability. It also explored the possible role of seed limitation and enemy pressure on invasion patterns. Two parallel field experiments were conducted: (1) increasing resources within low-density cheatgrass patches and, conversely (2) reducing resources within high-density cheatgrass patches. Treatments were applied at three life stages separately and across all stages. In low-density cheatgrass patches (assumed to represent high resistance), a disturbance that reduced soil compaction had the strongest positive effect, significantly increasing biomass by 250% and density by 104% in comparison to the control. The second strongest effect was reducing neighbors (native grasses), which significantly increased cheatgrass biomass and density. These results indicate that resources are present in low-density cheatgrass patches, but they are unavailable without disturbance and/or are exploited by competitors, and hence represent resistance to invasion. In high-density cheatgrass patches (assumed to represent low resistance), nitrogen availability was important in maintaining cheatgrass densities. Reducing nitrogen (via sucrose addition) significantly decreased density (by 37%) but not biomass. Life stages of cheatgrass were differentially affected by these resource manipulations. In addition, herbivore (primarily grasshoppers) and pathogen (head smut) pressures were documented to affect cheatgrass density, but did not explain resistance patterns. Instead, we found that differential resource availability explains the observed variation in cheatgrass density, and variation in natural resistance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)417-432
Number of pages16
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2004


  • Bromus tectorum
  • Great Basin
  • community susceptibility
  • disturbance
  • grasshopper herbivory
  • head smut
  • invasion biology
  • plant competition
  • resource availability
  • soil compaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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