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Keywords:

  • Centaurea solstitialis;
  • grassland restoration;
  • invasion;
  • Nassella pulchra

Abstract

Replacement of perennial grasses with non-native annual grasses in California's Central Valley grasslands and foothills has increased deep soil water availability. Yellow starthistle (Centaurea solstitialis), a deep-rooted invasive thistle, can use this water to invade annual grasslands. Native perennial bunchgrasses, such as Purple needlegrass (Nassella pulchra), also use deep soil water, so there is an overlap in resource use between N. pulchra and C. solstitialis. Restoration of N. pulchra to annual grasslands could result in strong competitive interactions between N. pulchra and C. solstitialis, which may reduce survival, growth, and reproduction of the invader. The strength of this competitive interaction can increase as N. pulchra plants mature, increase in size, and develop more extensive root systems. We studied how the size of N. pulchra affected the success of C. solstitialis invasion over 2 years. We allowed C. solstitialis seed to fall naturally into plots containing N. pulchra plants. For each plot, we measured the number of C. solstitialis seedlings and mature plants, as well as C. solstitialis biomass and seedhead production. In both years of the study, C. solstitialis number, biomass, and seedhead production declined significantly as N. pulchra size increased. However, even C. solstitialis grown with the largest N. pulchra plants produced some seed, especially during the higher rainfall year. We conclude that restoration plantings with larger, established N. pulchra plants will be more resistant to invasion by C. solstitialis than young N. pulchra plantings, but site management must continue as long as a C. solstitialis seed source is present.