Question: Predicting the future abundance and distribution of invasive plants requires knowing how they respond to environmental conditions. In arid and semi-arid ecosystems where water is a limiting resource, environmental conditions and disturbance patterns influence invasions by altering acquisition and utilization of water over space and time. We ask: 1. How do variations in climatic and soil properties influence temporal soil water dynamics? 2. How does this variation affect the establishment of Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), a cool-season annual grass that has successfully colonized much of the U.S. Great Basin?
Location: Short-grass Steppe in northeastern Colorado, USA; Arid Lands Ecology reserve in southeastern Washington, USA; and the Patagonian steppe of the Chubut province in Argentina.
Methods: We utilized a soil water model to simulate seasonal soil water dynamics in multiple combinations of climatic and soil properties. In addition, we utilized a gap dynamics model to simulate the impact of disturbance regime and seed availability on competition between B. tectorum and native plants.
Results: Our results suggest that climate is very important, but that soil properties do not significantly influence the probability of observing conditions suitable for B. tectorum establishment. Results of the plant competition model indicate that frequent disturbance causes more Bromus tectorum in invaded areas and higher seed availability causes faster invasion.
Conclusions: These results imply a general framework for understanding Bromus tectorum invasion in which climatic conditions dictate which areas are susceptible to invasion, disturbance regime dictates the severity of invasion and seed availability dictates the speed of invasion.