Finding Opportunity in Death

The harmful impacts and effects of cheatgrass in the Great Basin are no secret. It is extremely challenging to restore native plant communities to areas dominated by cheatgrass, the Great Basin’s most prolific and destructive weed. However, natural cheatgrass die-offs are not uncommon. Dr. Elizabeth Leger and research technician Owen Baughman from the University of Nevada, Reno are using cheatgrass die-offs as a potential opportunity to restore native plants.

Funded by the Great Basin LCC, their study examined whether seeding native grasses within die-off areas could improve the success of restoration projects. Two native, perennial grass species were seeded within a die-off area near Winnemucca, Nevada in 2012 and monitored for activity and growth for two years. Initially, seedling emergence was lower in the die-off area, but seedlings that did emerge in the die-off area were larger and grew more vigorously than seedlings in areas that did not die-off. This increased growth affected seedling survival, and there were significantly more native grass seedlings in the die-off area by the end of the second year. These promising results suggest that targeting die-off areas for restoration projects could lead to improved success of native species. The team initiated a follow-up study in November 2014 for three different die-off sites in northern Nevada, to test these promising findings at more sites and using more native species, including native shrubs and forbs.