Bullying the Bullies: The Selective Control of an Exotic, Invasive Annual (Rapistrum rugosum) by Oversowing with a Competitive Native Species (Gaillardia pulchella)


  • Mark T Simmons

    Corresponding author
    1. Landscape Restoration Program, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Avenue, Austin, TX 78739, U.S.A.
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Address correspondence to M. T. Simmons, email wildflower@wildflower.org; msimmons@wildflower.org


Mechanical, biological, and chemical attempts to control invasive plants can be expensive, ecologically damaging, and frequently unsuccessful. This study proposes using the intrinsic biological attributes of the threatened plant community by artificially increasing the density of competitive native species to selectively suppress the growth of the invasive. Evidence from agricultural weed control suggests that oversowing infested areas with species with biological traits similar to those of the invasive species not only reduces productivity of the invasive species but also may eliminate environmental damage associated with standard control techniques. Annual bastard cabbage (Rapistrum rugosum), a Eurasian exotic, is an invader of native plant communities in the continental United States. Control with herbicides has been problematic due to high mortality of adjacent native species and subsequent perpetuation of a disturbed state that facilitates further regeneration of R. rugosum from the seed bank. In a randomized field experiment, sowing native Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella) over established seedling colonies of R. rugosum resulted in significant reduction of R. rugosum productivity (F= 3.43; p < 0.05). The highest sowing rate of G. pulchella resulted in a 72% reduction in aboveground productivity of R. rugosum that translated to an estimated 83% decrease in seed set, without significant suppression of adjacent native species. It is proposed that enriching threatened or infested plant communities with selected native species with matching phenologies and competitive characteristics has advantages over conventional control methods in that (1) it reduces the threat to nontarget organisms; (2) once installed, the species could self-regenerate; and (3) it does not perpetuate a disturbed (early-successional) state that might aggravate the problem. This may serve as an alternative technique to protect and restore native plant communities.