In summer 2011, I landed a seasonal research technician job with the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, whose Great Basin Ecology Laboratory is here in Reno.
I’m participating in the fourth year of a 5-year study of the invasive annual grass Bromus tectorum, also known as downy brome — or more commonly, cheatgrass — because it “cheats” native plant species out of growing space and soil nutrients. Our field sites are located north of Winnemucca, about 3 hours from Reno.
About the study
Cheatgrass is a native of Asia and was introduced in North America in the 19th century. Since then, there have been widespread ecological and economic effects of the invasion of this and other non-native annual grasses into sagebrush ecosystems depleted by livestock grazing.
Researchers are examining what makes Great Basin ecosystems resistant to invasion and expansion of cheatgrass, and management approaches for increasing ecological resistance to cheatgrass and restoring native ecosystems.
Restoration of degraded rangelands depends on controlling cheatgrass while also giving native species a better chance to establish. We know, for example, that lowering the amount of nitrogen in the soil makes it harder for cheatgrass to establish and spread.
Native perennial grasses, on the other hand, prefer this lower-nitrogen environment — so if nitrogen levels can be lowered enough to hinder cheatgrass, it may be possible for native perennial species to establish. Fire is a possible way to alter soil nitrogen to favor natives.
Here are some photos from this summer’s field activities: camping, sampling, and getting covered in soot — all in the name of science.