Biological Invasions

, Volume 18, Issue 6, pp 1611–1628 | Cite as

Strong genetic differentiation in the invasive annual grass Bromus tectorum across the Mojave–Great Basin ecological transition zone

  • Susan E. MeyerEmail author
  • Elizabeth A. Leger
  • Desirée R. Eldon
  • Craig E. Coleman
Original Paper


Bromus tectorum, an inbreeding annual grass, is a dominant invader in sagebrush steppe habitat in North America. It is also common in warm and salt deserts, displaying a larger environmental tolerance than most native species. We tested the hypothesis that a suite of habitat-specific B. tectorum lineages dominates warm desert habitats. We sampled 30 B. tectorum Mojave Desert and desert fringe populations and genotyped 10–26 individuals per population using 69 single nucleotide polymorphic (SNP) markers. We compared these populations to 11 Great Basin steppe and salt desert populations. Populations from warm desert habitats were dominated by members of two haplogroups (87 % of individuals) that were distinct from haplogroups common in Great Basin habitats. We conducted common garden studies comparing adaptive traits and field performance among haplogroups typically found in different habitats. In contrast to the haplogroup abundant in sagebrush steppe, warm desert haplogroups generally lacked a vernalization requirement for flowering. The most widespread warm desert haplogroup (Warm Desert 1) also had larger seeds and a higher root:shoot ratio than other haplogroups. In the field, performance of warm desert haplogroups was dramatically lower than the sagebrush steppe haplogroup at one steppe site, but one warm desert haplogroup performed as well as the steppe haplogroup under drought conditions at the other site. Our results suggest that B. tectorum succeeds in widely disparate environments through ecotypic variation displayed by distinct lineages of plants. Accounting for this ecotypic variation is essential in modeling its future distribution in response to climate change.


Cheatgrass Climate change Downy brome Ecological genetics Ecotone Invasive species Pre-adaptation SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism) 



This work was supported in part by grants from the USDA Cooperative State Research Service (2008-35320-18677 to S.E.M. and C.E.C.), the Joint Fire Sciences Program (JFSP-2007-1-3-10, JFSP-2011-S-2-6 to S.E.M.), the Bureau of Land Management (Integrated Cheatgrass Die-off Research Project to S.E.M. and E.A.L.), and the University of Nevada Reno (start-up funds to E.A.L.). Thanks to Phil Allen, Joshua Nicholson, David Salman, and Bettina Schultz for seed collection, to Keith Merrill and Sam Decker for help with the SNP analysis, to Suzette Clement and Joshua Nicholson for assistance with the field study in Utah, to Sandra Li, Owen Baughman, Bryce Wehan, and Erin Goergen for field and greenhouse assistance in Nevada, and to Bettina Schultz for preparing the color graphics.

Supplementary material

10530_2016_1105_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.7 mb)
Online Resource 1: Expanded version of dendrogram in Fig. 3 with all branch tips labeled, along with explanatory material relating SNP haplotype groups to SSR haplotypes reported in earlier work. (PDF 1770 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland (outside the USA) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan E. Meyer
    • 1
    Email author
  • Elizabeth A. Leger
    • 2
  • Desirée R. Eldon
    • 3
  • Craig E. Coleman
    • 3
  1. 1.Shrub Sciences LaboratoryUSFS Rocky Mountain Research StationProvoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural Resources and Environmental ScienceUniversity of Nevada, RenoRenoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Plant and Wildlife SciencesBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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