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Plant community context controls short- vs. medium-term effects of pre-emergent herbicides on target and non-target species after fire

April 25, 2022

Questions: Selective herbicide application is a common restoration strategy to control exotic invaders that interfere with native plant recovery after wildfire. Whether spraying with preemergent or bioherbicides releases native plants from competition with exotics (“spray-and-release” strategy) and can make communities resistant to re-invasion by exotic annual grasses (e.g., cheatgrass, medusahead), without risks to non-target native plants or secondary invasion, is a major question for land managers of semiarid plant communities.

Location: Sagebrush steppe of southwest Idaho, USA


We applied chemical herbicides (imazapic, rimsulfuron) and weed-suppressive bacteria (Pseudomonas fluorescens strains MB906 and D7) to three sagebrush-steppe communities after fire.We measured plant cover prior to burning and for four years (five for exotic annual grasses) post-treatment.


Both chemical herbicides significantly reduced exotic annual grass cover in all communities in the first post-spraying year, but rimsulfuron plots were re-invaded after 1-2 years, while imazapic plots continued to resist re-invasion 4 and even 5 years post-spraying, well after the herbicide should have degraded. We did not detect any increase in native perennial grass cover with either herbicide, and herbicides had both positive and negative effects on individual bunchgrass basal diameter, depending on species and plant community. Rimsulfuron was more damaging than imazapic to shallow-rooted perennial bunchgrasses. Moss and lichen cover, key components of soil integrity, increased with chemical herbicide treatments in some communities. Both herbicides increased secondary invaders (exotic forbs or grasses), which varied by plant community and herbicide. Weed-suppressive bacteria treatments had no significant effects on cover of any functional group.


While short-term effects of chemical herbicides that target exotic annual grasses were relatively consistent and predictable, longer-term effects were specific to the herbicide and plant community. The “spray and release” strategy may confer resistance to re-invasion by exotic annual grasses if herbicides prevent re-invasion for an extended period.

Publication Year 2022
Title Plant community context controls short- vs. medium-term effects of pre-emergent herbicides on target and non-target species after fire
DOI 10.1111/avsc.12662
Authors Brynne E. Lazarus, Matthew Germino
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied Vegetation Science
Index ID 70230940
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center