Our national grasslands represent large tracts of native prairie and pose distinctive challenges to studying and managing invasive plants. Newly introduced species can quickly spread unimpeded across large areas of these uninterrupted landscapes, making early detection and rapid response critical components of invasive plant research and management.
Few studies focus specifically on recently introduced exotic plants in the early stages of establishment. Documenting patterns of invasion before species becomes widespread and identifying traits that may contribute to the success of recent invaders can increase our knowledge of factors influencing invasibility.
Forest Service scientists and partners developed an aggressive approach to investigate the biological and habitat characteristics of sickleweed (Falcaria vulgaris), a rapidly expanding invasive plant newly introduced into the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains and Upper Midwest. The research combines three approaches:
Genetic analyses have identified the number and location of potential sites of introductions, and seed germination trials described the establishment and spread potential of the species. Collectively, these studies help managers develop a range of management alternatives that reduce establishment of new populations and limit expansion of existing populations. The researchers' approach also provides a template for future evaluations of newly introduced species before they become potential invaders.