Medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae [L.] Nevski) is an exotic, annual grass invading sagebrush steppe rangelands in the western United States. Medusahead invasion has been demonstrated to reduce livestock forage, but otherwise information comparing vegetation characteristics of medusahead-invaded to noninvaded sagebrush steppe communities is limited. This lack of knowledge makes it difficult to determine the cost–benefit ratio of controlling and preventing medusahead invasion. To estimate the impact of medusahead invasion, vegetation characteristics were compared between invaded and noninvaded Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis [Beetle & A. Young] S. L. Welsh) steppe communities that had similar soils, topography, climate, and management. Noninvaded plant communities had greater cover and density of all native herbaceous functional groups compared to medusahead-invaded communities (P < 0.01). Large perennial grass cover was 15-fold greater in the noninvaded compared to invaded plant communities. Sagebrush cover and density were greater in the noninvaded compared to the medusahead-invaded communities (P < 0.01). Biomass production of all native herbaceous functional groups was higher in noninvaded compared to invaded plant communities (P < 0.02). Perennial and annual forb biomass production was 1.9- and 45-fold more, respectively, in the noninvaded than invaded communities. Species richness and diversity were greater in the noninvaded than invaded plant communities (P < 0.01). The results of this study suggest that medusahead invasion substantially alters vegetation characteristics of sagebrush steppe plant communities, and thereby diminishes wildlife habitat, forage production, and ecosystem functions. Because of the broad negative influence of medusahead invasion, greater efforts should be directed at preventing its continued expansion.
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