Performance of Willamette Valley native plants following herbicide exposure Public Deposited


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  • Prairies were once the dominant vegetation type in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Land use conversion, fire suppression, succession, and invasive species have reduced Willamette Valley prairies to less than 1% of their historical area. The remnant prairies that persist today are small in size and are highly fragmented. Marginal strips of habitat along roadsides and agricultural fields play an important role as refugia for native species and provide important resources for wildlife. These seemingly insignificant habitat units may also play an important role in facilitating gene flow between disjunct populations of prairie plants, thus reducing the potential for the negative effects of inbreeding depression. Presently, much of the land area in the Willamette Valley is dedicated to commercial agricultural which is heavily reliant on herbicides for weed control and field preparation. Since herbicide applications are imprecise and prone to drift, there is potential to impact the native plants surrounding these agricultural fields. Current EPA methods for assessing the ecological effects of herbicides may not be robust enough to account for potential impacts on native plants since the suggested test species are ten annual agricultural crops. To address the need for improved phytotoxicity testing protocols, we incorporated non-crop plant species into the EPA vegetative vigor test methodology for use in determining effects of low concentrations of chemical herbicides on Willamette Valley terrestrial plants. A separate experiment was conducted in order to determine how herbicides might be used to restore Butterfly Meadows, a degraded Willamette Valley prairie. The specific objective of this study were to: 1.) determine which herbicide treatments were most effective at reducing dominance of an invasive species, Brachypodium sylvaticum, 2.) determine if native species declined following herbicide treatments, and 3.) describe the compositional changes in the plant communities over a four-year period. The EPA vegetative vigor test study showed that there was a wide variety of responses among 17 species (14 native and 3 introduced) to each herbicide tested (glyphosate, tribenuron, and fluazifop). For glyphosate, Potentilla gracilis was the most sensitive species based on an EC25 value of 0.012 x f.a.r. for dry weight; while Bromus carinatus, Clarkia amoena, Gilia capitata, and Lupinus albicaulis were tolerant to glyphosate as indicated by no effect on dry weight. Seven Willamette Valley forb species were sensitive to tribenuron based on EC25 values ranging from 0.001 to 0.012 x f.a.r.; Clarkia amoena, Collinsia grandflora, Leucanthemum vulgare, Potentilla gracilis, Prunella vulgaris, Ranunculus occidentalis and Sanquisorba occidentalis. Six grass species and Eriophyllum lanatum were resistant to tribenuron showing no reduction in dry weight. Fluazifop primarily affected grass species as expected due to the grass-specific activity for this herbicide. Two native grasses, Elymus trachycaulus and Danthonia californica were the most sensitive to fluazifop, based on low EC25 values of 0.002 to 0.010 x f.a.r. A native fescue grass, Festuca roemeri, and nearly all the forb species were resistant to fluazifop, showing no response at any herbicide rate applied. The results from this research will be useful as background information for evaluating potential modifications in the EPA's Vegetative Vigor Test to assess the risk of herbicides to non-target plants. Seven different herbicide combinations were effective at reducing the cover of Brachypodium sylvaticum in test plots at Butterfly Meadows one year after treatment. The reduction of B. sylvaticum was short lived however, since the cover of this grass species was not different from control plots during the second growing season. Native plant species were not negatively impacted by the herbicide treatments, as shown by MRPP analysis. Successional trajectories illustrate that control plots that were dominated by B. sylvaticum remained relatively unchanged over the course of four years. Some treatments exhibited a sharp decline in dominance by graminoids after the first year, a recovery the second year, but never returned exactly to their pretreatment community composition after the third year. The reduction of the dominant species after the first growing season was associated with colonization by a number of introduced species into the newly created open habitat. Over the same period there was no overall increase in native species cover, suggesting that the native species at this site may be recruitment limited. Future restoration activities at this site should include multiple years of B. sylvaticum control, with special attention to the seed bank and tolerant individuals. Seed additions of native species may help fill empty niches and afford resistance to invasion by introduced species.
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