Ecological - Second Order
Purposeful introductions of exotic species for rehabilitation efforts following wildfire are common on rangelands in the western United States, though ecological impacts of exotic species in novel environments are often poorly understood. One such introduced species, Kochia prostrata (L.) Schrad (forage kochia) has been seeded on over 200,000 ha throughout the Intermountain West to provide fuel breaks and forage, and to compete with invasive plants. Despite its potential benefits, K. prostrata has been reported to spread from some seeded areas, and no studies have addressed its potential interactions with native species. A systematic investigation is needed to increase understanding of the extent to which K. prostrata spreads from seeded areas, the environmental conditions under which it spreads, and its interactions with the associated plant communities. We sampled 28 K. prostrata postfire rehabilitation and greenstrip seedings in southwestern Idaho, which ranged from 3 to 24 yr since seeding. We analyzed cover of K. prostrata and the associated plant community in adjacent seeded and unseeded areas, and quantified extent of spread from seeded areas. Abundance of K. prostrata was negatively associated with that of most plant functional groups, including native species, but was positively associated with abundance of exotic annual forbs. Kochia prostrata spread to unseeded areas on 89% of sampled sites; distances of the farthest individual from the seeding boundary were greater than those previously reported, ranging from 0 to 710 m, with a mean distance of 208 m. Further, although the area covered by K. prostrata increased with time since seeding, we found no evidence that plant community composition affected spread of K. prostrata. Results contribute to current understanding of potential ecological implications of seeding K. prostrata and will enhance the ability of land managers to make scientifically based management decisions about its use.