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Keywords:

  • cold acclimation;
  • freezing tolerance;
  • global warming;
  • grasses;
  • invasive species;
  • species distribution

Abstract

The invasive grasses Bromus rubens and Bromus tectorum are responsible for widespread damage to semiarid biomes of western North America. Bromus. tectorum dominates higher and more northern landscapes than its sister species B. rubens, which is a severe invader in the Mojave desert region of the American Southwest. To assess climate thresholds controlling their distinct geographic ranges, we evaluated the winter cold tolerance of B. tectorum and B. rubens. Freezing tolerance thresholds were determined using electrolyte leakage and whole-plant mortality. The responses of the two species to winter cold and artificial freezing treatments were similar in 2007–2008 and 2009–2010. When grown at minimum temperatures of 10 °C, plants of both species had cold tolerance thresholds near −10 °C, while plants acclimated to a daily minimum of −10 to −30 °C survived temperatures down to −31 °C. In the winter of 2010–2011, a sudden severe cold event on December 9, 2010 killed all B. rubens populations, while B. tectorum was not harmed; all tested plants were 7–8 weeks old. Controlled acclimation experiments demonstrated that 8-week-old plants of B. rubens had a slower acclimation rate to subzero temperatures than B. tectorum and could not survive a rapid temperature drop from 1 to −14 °C. Four-month-old B. rubens populations were as cold tolerant as B. tectorum. Our results show that severe and sudden freeze events in late autumn can kill young plants of B. rubens but not B. tectorum. Such events could exclude B. rubens from the relatively cold, Intermountain steppe biome of western North America where B. tectorum predominates.