Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/11/2009
Publication Date: 5/1/2009
Citation: Sheley, R.L., Svejcar, A.J. 2009. Response of Bluebunch Wheatgrass and Medusahead to Defoliation. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 62(3):278-283.
Interpretive Summary: We tested whether grazing managers could stimulate bluebunch wheatgrass production by lightly defoliating them in mid-spring to remove hormonal control of tiller initiation. If increased tiller production occurred, we expected increased competitive influence on neighboring undesirable medusahead plants. Light early-spring defoliation followed 50% defoliation in early-summer did not stimulate tiller or biomass production, and consequently had no effect on medusahead. It is likely that lack of soil moisture after the initial defoliation limited the plants ability to positively respond.
Technical Abstract: Our objective was to determine the short-term response of bluebunch wheatgrass and medusahead to defoliation of wheatgrass designed to stimulate re-growth through tillering. We hypothesized that defoliating bluebunch wheatgrass by 20% at the 3 to 3.5 leaf followed by a 50% defoliation at peak standing crop would increase its tillering and biomass production. Consequently, we expected a reduction of the density and biomass of medusahead over that of bluebunch wheatgrass defoliated 50% at peak standing crop. Treatments included four initial medusahead densities (200, 333, 444, 600 plants/m2) created by hand-pulling and three defoliation regimes factorially arranged (12 treatment combinations) in a randomized-complete-block design and replicated four times at two sites. In 2006 and 2007, defoliation was accomplished by hand-clipping bluebunch wheatgrass: a) by 50% once at peak standing crop (late-June), b) by 20% at the 3 to 3.5 leaf stage, then again to 50% at peak standing crop (mid-May; late-June), or c) plants were not clipped. Density was sampled in 2006 and 2007, and biomass was harvested at Star Mountain in 2007 only because Warm Springs was burned by a wildfire before final 2007 data could be collected. In 2006, no treatments applied at either site detectably altered the number of tillers produced by bluebunch wheatgrass, nor did they affect bluebunch wheatgrass density or biomass in 2007 at Star Mountain. Changes in medusahead density were not detected in 2006, but this annual invasive grass increased in density and biomass in 2007 at Star Mountain in plots receiving two defoliations. The relatively short growing period caused by summer drought and the relative intolerance of bluebunch wheatgrass to grazing make the twice over grazing an unlikely practice for arid rangelands in the western U.S. In fact, it could possibly increase the risk of annual grass invasion.