The University of Arizona

Effects of sheep grazing on a spotted knapweed-infested Idaho fescue community.

B.E. Olson, R.T. Wallander, J.R. Lacey


Spotted knapweed (Centaurea Maculosa Lam.), a Eurasian perennial forb, is replacing many native perennial grasses, such as Idaho fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer.), in foothills of the Northern Rocky Mountain region. Our objective was to determine if 3 summers of repeated sheep grazing would reduce spotted knapweed without impacting the dominant, associated native perennial grass. Each summer, small pastures were grazed for 1-7 days in mid-June, mid-July, and early September. Areas repeatedly grazed by sheep had lower densities of seedlings, rosettes, and mature spotted knapweed plants than ungrazed areas. In addition, the proportion of young plants in the population was less in grazed than ungrazed areas. Basal areas of spotted knapweed plants were greater in grazed (8.2 cm2) than ungrazed areas (4.0 cm2). There were fewer spotted knapweed seeds in soil samples from grazed areas (12 seeds m-2) than from ungrazed (49 seeds m-2). Idaho fescue plant density increased 40% in grazed areas from 1991 to 1994, but leaves and flower stems on these plants were 38% and 17% shorter, respectively, than in ungrazed areas. By 1994, frequency of Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.) was 35% greater in grazed than ungrazed areas. Grazing did not alter the amount of litter; however the amount of bare soil increased from 2.2 to 5.6% in grazed areas, while it decreased from 4 to 1% in ungrazed areas. Three summers of repeated sheep grazing negatively impacted spotted knapweed, but minimally affected the native grass community. A long term commitment to repeated sheep grazing may slow the rate of increase of spotted knapweed in native plant communities.


native plants;Festuca idahoensis;weed control;seedlings;Idaho;plant communities;sheep;plant density;centaurea maculosa;range management;grazing

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