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Annual grass invasions are transforming desert ecosystems in ways that could affect ecosystem carbon balance, but previous studies do not agree on the pattern or severity of these changes.

A recent analysis concluded that invasion by annual grasses such as cheatgrass can reduce carbon biomass across the Great Basin. Researchers from Boise State University and the USGS reanalyzed the data from that study and included other factors that could impact carbon storage. The authors concluded that the impact of cheatgrass on ecosystem carbon is complex and varies with climate. Carbon storage in plants was reduced in areas with wet summers but not sites with dry summers. Cheatgrass has expanded most in summer-dry sites, so the omission of climate could lead to overestimates of the impact of cheatgrass. Accounting for variability could improve estimates of the impact of invaders and improve the success of management practices designed to optimize carbon storage.  

Maxwell, T.M., and Germino, M.J., 2022, The effects of cheatgrass invasion on US Great Basin carbon storage depend on interactions between plant community composition, precipitation seasonality, and soil climate regime: Journal of Applied Ecology. 

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