2023 Undergraduate Research Showcase


Cheaters Sometimes Prosper: Identifying Environmental Conditions That Correlate with High Cheatgrass Abundance on the Sawtooth National Forest

Document Type

Student Presentation

Presentation Date


Faculty Sponsor

Dr. Kelly Hopping


Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is an invasive annual grass that has overtaken much of the American West, outcompeting native plants that are beneficial to local ecosystems. Cheatgrass is able to outcompete native vegetation because this species can quickly take advantage of available nutrients, becoming the dominant land cover in lower elevation landscapes, which decreases overall biodiversity. Recent observations in higher elevation ecosystems such as the Sawtooth National Forest indicate that cheatgrass is expanding to elevations beyond what is typically studied for this species. The presence of cheatgrass can lead to increased wildfires, harmful impacts to agricultural production, and degradation of wildlife habitats. Expansion along a larger elevational gradient will exacerbate these issues. Our study takes place in the Sawtooth National Forest, near Hailey, Idaho. We collected data on plant cover and biomass in 32 plots near the upper limit of cheatgrass’ typical elevation range. We then correlated our plant data with environmental factors that we hypothesize could drive differences in the plant community, such as soil type, slope, aspect, temperature, and precipitation. These factors may influence which areas of ecosystems have a higher risk of cheatgrass invasion and will help improve our understanding of cheatgrass distribution on the Sawtooth National Forest. Our results can aid and inform land managers seeking to mitigate the growth and spread of cheatgrass, which would in turn reduce wildfire risk and promote ecosystem success.

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