Using Bacteria to Control Cheatgrass and Manage Fire Risk


Great Basin LCC Research Landscape Ecologist Matt Germino is part of a team tackling a critical ecological conundrum in the American west: how can land managers use science to help reduce the risk of devastating wildfires? Part of the answer may involve soil bacteria, specifically Psuedomonas fluorescens

The bacteria could be a formidable weapon in the fight against cheatgrass, an invasive plant from Asia that crowds out native vegetation and provides the ideal kindling for wildfires. Cheatgrass is a particularly successful invader thanks to its fast-growing roots that inhibit the growth of other grasses. P. fluorescens interrupts this process, embedding itself within cheatgrass roots and preventing them from growing deep and long. Early results from experiments in test plots indicate that the bacteria can cut the amount of cheatgrass in half after three years and fully eradicate the plant in about five years. 

Germino and the rest of the research team are exploring whether P. fluorescens could be used to control cheatgrass on a rangeland-scale. The team thinks the bacteria may work well as a complement to herbicide, preventing cheatgrass re-growth after initial herbicide treatment. If bacterial control of cheatgrass can be implemented on a landscape-level, this could greatly reduce the amount of herbicide required. Long term, the reduction of cheatgrass and fire risk could have several added benefits, including advantages for Greater Sage-grouse conservation efforts.

Read more about this research in The Atlantic, The LA Times and from The Associated Press.  

P. Fluorescens, Photo credit: American Society of Microbiology