Dispersal mechanisms of the alien plant species buffalobur during its invasion of cold desert areas in Xinjiang, northwestern China, were investigated. Seeds and fruits were readily moved by water in irrigation canals in the transition zone between natural desert and a farmed oasis. Maximum flotation time in moving canal water was ∼ 4 h for seeds and > 48 h for fruits, and water moved fruits 279 m in 10 min. Also, 100% of the seeds remained viable during 8 wk of flooding in the laboratory. Mean dispersal distance was 3.4 m by wind-driven rolling of detached plants and 0.5 m by ants. Retention time for 50% of fruits on wool of live sheep was ∼ 4 h. Seeds and fruits that fall into the canals (which are without irrigation water from mid-October to April) are cold-stratified during winter, and then during canal cleaning in spring soil and germinable seeds are deposited along the sides of the canals. The disturbed soil is a highly favorable site for plants to grow. The local spread of buffalobur away from the sides of canals is facilitated by sheep, wind, and ants. We conclude that water in the irrigation canals is the primary dispersal agent for seeds of this invasive species and that the best way to control its spread is to prevent plants growing beside the canals from setting seed.
Nomenclature: Buffalobur, Solanum rostratum Dunal SOLRO.