North American sagebrush steppe communities have been transformed by the introduction of invasive annual grasses and subsequent increase in fire size and frequency. We examined the effects of wildfires and environmental conditions on the ability of rush skeletonweed (Chondrilla juncea L.), a perennial Eurasian composite, to invade degraded sagebrush steppe communities, largely dominated by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.). Recruitment of rush skeletonweed from seed and root buds was investigated on 11 burned and unburned plot pairs on Idaho's Snake River Plain following summer 2003 wildfires. Emergence from soil seedbanks was similar on burned and unburned plots in 2003 and 2004 (P = 0.37). Soils from recently burned plots (P = 0.05) and sterilized field soil (P < 0.01) supported greater emergence than did unburned field soils when rush skeletonweed seeds were mixed into the soils in the laboratory. These decreases may indicate susceptibility of this exotic invasive to soil pathogens present in field soils. Seeds in bags placed on field soil in late October 2003 reached peak germination by mid-January 2004 during a wet period; 1% remained viable by August 2004. Seedling emergence from sown plots or the native seedbank and establishment of new rosettes from root sprouts in 2003–2005 indicate that seed germination of rush skeletonweed on the Snake River Plain may be facultative, occurring in fall or spring if soil moisture is adequate, although many germinants may not survive. Stand development results primarily from root sprouting. Establishment from seed is episodic but provides for dispersal, with increasing fire frequency and size expanding the areas of disturbance available for new invasions.
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Vol. 60 • No. 4