Invasive grass natural stressor release
Invasion of exotic organisms is considered the second leading cause of loss of global biodiversity after habitat alteration. Therefore, understanding the processes and mechanisms that mediate invasive species is critical to mitigating the detrimental effects on biodiversity and ecosystem function.

Our project tests the enemy release hypotheses on buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliarus), and expands it to “natural stressor release”. We are interested in knocking out natural enemies and stressors of buffelgrass in its home range (Kenya), in order to understand why the grass is so successful in introduced rangelands, pan-tropically.

We have a series of ungulate exclosures across the north-south (dry-wet) precipitation gradient of Mpala Research Centre, both within the fence and an experimental plot just outside of the fence we regularly spray insecticide, spray fungicide, clip competing plants, and exclude rodents. Our project is effectively making buffelgrass an invasive species in its native range.

This leads to interesting insights into what traits makes a plant invasive or a habitat invasible. We are expanding the inference gained from our research in Kenya by having companion studies which look at the same biotic and abiotic factors in parts of its introduced range in South Texas, U.S.A. The results of our experiment are providing insight into the relative importance of various biotic and abiotic factors, and identifying ways of biocontrol.

Universities and Organizations: University of Texas, Mpala Research Centre

Primary Investigators: Dr. Dino J Martins, ea@mpala.org, Dr. Rob Plowes, robplowes@utexas.edu, Dr. Aaron Rhodes, aaronrhodes@utexas.edu