Invasive species and coal bed methane development in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming
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- Bergquist, E., Evangelista, P., Stohlgren, T.J. et al. Environ Monit Assess (2007) 128: 381. doi:10.1007/s10661-006-9321-7
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One of the fastest growing areas of natural gas production is coal bed methane (CBM) due to the large monetary returns and increased demand for energy from consumers. The Powder River Basin, Wyoming is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of CBM development with projections of the establishment of up to 50,000 wells. CBM disturbances may make the native ecosystem more susceptible to invasion by non-native species, but there are few studies that have been conducted on the environmental impacts of this type of resource extraction. To evaluate the potential effects of CBM development on native plant species distribution and patterns of non-native plant invasion, 36 modified Forest Inventory and Analysis plots (each comprised of four 168-m2 subplots) were established in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming. There were 73 168-m2 subplots on control sites; 42 subplots on secondary disturbances; 14 on major surface disturbances; eight on well pads; and seven on sites downslope of CBM wells water discharge points. Native plant species cover ranged from 39.5 ± 2.7% (mean ± 1 SE) in the secondary disturbance subplots to 17.7 ± 7.5% in the pad subplots. Non-native plant species cover ranged from 31.0 ± 8.4% in the discharge areas to 14.7 ± 8.9% in the pad subplots. The control subplots had significantly less non-native species richness than the combined disturbance types. The combined disturbance subplots had significantly greater soil salinity than the control sites. These results suggest that CBM development and associated disturbances may facilitate the establishment of non-native plants. Future research and management decisions should consider the accumulative landscape-scale effects of CBM development on preserving native plant diversity.