Scientific superheroes

  • Nancy Shaw of the U.S. Forest Service.

    USFS
  • Ann Kennedy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

  • Rosemary Pendleton of the U.S. Forest Service.

 

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Great Basin scientists unleash new weapons to fight invasive cheatgrass

Other researchers investigating new tools and tricks to help suppress invasive cheatgrass:

Nancy Shaw, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Boise, Idaho

Shaw's investigation into new seed-drilling tools could mean the difference between success and failure for many native seeds. She's been testing a minimum till drill, which reduces soil disturbance, compaction and erosion. Using it, restoration crews can handle a variety of seed types at once, allowing them to broadcast smaller seeds on the surface and press them into the soil, so they have better seed-soil contact. In reseeding trials with the new drill, Shaw has seen much better success than normal with smaller-seeded native plants. She hopes land managers can soon put it to widespread use.

Ann Kennedy, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agriculture Research Service, Pullman, Wash.

The soil scientist happened upon a new way to fight cheatgrass in 1990, while trying to understand why certain fields in eastern Washington produced stunted wheat. She discovered a bacteria that inhibited the growth of the crop's root cells and wondered if a similar one existed for weeds like cheatgrass. After collecting and scanning around 10,000 different soil organisms, Kennedy found some specific to cheatgrass. When the researcher's team applied the bacteria to the weed in quantities slightly higher than it naturally occurs, it successfully suppressed the cheatgrass' growth. Kennedy has also isolated bacteria that inhibit two other invasives -- medusahead and jointed goat grass -- and she's recently been approached by agricultural companies interested in commercializing the biological control and making it more broadly available.

Rosemary Pendleton, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Albuquerque, N.M.

Pendleton, a research ecologist, has worked with scientists George Newcombe and Melissa Baynes to collect over 700 types of fungi living on cheatgrass to determine how different fungi might affect its growth. One type, Sporormiella, which is found in animal dung, appears to suppress the weed's growth while ignoring native species. Pendleton says that if grazing animals ate grass that hosts Sporormiella, their waste would spread the fungus as they wandered the range. The researchers plan on doing more experiments to see how effective this and other fungi could be in weed control.

Nora Jones
Nora Jones Subscriber
Sep 19, 2012 12:01 PM
Great work, both by the scientists and journalists working on cheatgrass and ecological restoration in the west.