"It reduces the quality of the area for animal forage, is toxic to horses and when it forms spines, cattle don't want to eat it," Dukes said. "Many consider yellow starthistle to be the worst grassland weed in the West."
The decreased pasture production, lost water, and control costs associated with yellow starthistle cause economic impacts in many western states. Experts suggest that in Idaho alone, the weed may cause more than $12 million a year in economic damage and that yellow starthistle reduces pasture values by 6 percent to 7 percent across the state of California.
Dukes said all plants increased in size as expected when exposed to more nitrogen. But yellow starthistle was especially responsive to increased carbon dioxide.
That might be in part because the weed can gain access to more soil resources, Dukes said. Grassland plants' stomata, small porelike openings on the leaves, don't have to be open as wide to take in carbon dioxide when there is a larger concentration in the air. Those smaller stomata allow less water to escape, and the extra water in the soil could favor yellow starthistle. The added carbon dioxide also changed the mix of species competing with the weed and may have allowed it to grow a more effective root system.
"It was an impressive increase in growth," Dukes said. "It was one of the largest responses to elevated carbon dioxide ever observed."
Biological control species introduced to control yellow starthistle have not been effective enough, and Dukes said it is becoming urgent that better controls be developed to address invasive species that could cause significant damage to pasture, cropland and wildlands.
|Contact: Brian Wallheimer|