Plant Ecology

, Volume 212, Issue 3, pp 461–470 | Cite as

Drought tolerance in two perennial bunchgrasses used for restoration in the Intermountain West, USA

  • Jayanti Ray Mukherjee
  • Thomas A. Jones
  • Peter B. Adler
  • Thomas A. Monaco


An ideal restoration species for the semi-arid Intermountain West, USA would be one that grows rapidly when resources are abundant in the spring, yet tolerates summer’s drought. We compared two perennial C3, Triticeae Intermountain-native bunchgrasses, the widely occurring Pseudoroegneria spicata and the much less widespread Elymus wawawaiensis, commonly used as a restoration surrogate for P. spicata. Specifically, we evaluated seedlings of multiple populations of each species for biomass production, water use, and morphological and physiological traits that might relate to drought tolerance under three watering frequencies (WFs) in a greenhouse. Shoot biomass of E. wawawaiensis exceeded that of P. spicata regardless of WF. At low WF, E. wawawaiensis displayed 38% greater shoot biomass, 80% greater specific leaf area (SLA), and 32% greater precipitation use efficiency (PUE). One E. wawawaiensis population, E-46, displayed particularly high root biomass and water consumption at high WF. We suggest that such a plant material could be especially effective for restoration of Intermountain rangelands by preempting early-season weeds for spring moisture and also achieving high PUE. Our data explain how E. wawawaiensis has been so successful as a restoration surrogate for P. spicata and highlight the importance of measuring functional traits such as PUE and SLA when characterizing restoration plant materials.


Bluebunch wheatgrass Snake River wheatgrass Specific leaf area Specific root length Precipitation use efficiency 


  1. Asay KH, Horton WH, Jensen KB, Palazzo AJ (2001) Merits of native and introduced Triticeae grasses on semiarid rangelands. Can J Plant Sci 81:45–52. doi:10.1080/713936115 Google Scholar
  2. Boyer JS (1995) Measuring the water status of plants and soils. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  3. Carlson JR, Barkworth ME (1997) Elymus wawawaiensis: a species hitherto confused with Pseudoroegneria spicata (Triticeae, Poaceae). Phytologia 83:312–330Google Scholar
  4. Chapin FS III, Autumn K, Pugnaire F (1993) Evolution of suites of traits in response to environmental stress. Am Nat 142:S78–S92CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Craufurd PQ, Wheeler TR, Ellis RH, Summerfield RJ, Williams JH (1999) Effect of temperature and water deficit on water-use efficiency, carbon isotope discrimination, and specific leaf area in peanut. Crop Sci 39:136–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Daubenmire RF (1942) An ecological study of the vegetation of southeastern Washington and adjacent Idaho. Ecol Monogr 12:53–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fernández RJ, Reynolds JF (2000) Potential growth and drought tolerance of eight desert grasses: lack of a trade-off? Oecologia 123:90–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Goldberg D, Novoplansky A (1997) On the relative performance of competition in unproductive environments. J Ecol 85:409–418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Grime JP (2001) Plant strategies, vegetation processes, and ecosystem properties. Wiley, ChichesterGoogle Scholar
  10. Harris GA (1967) Some competitive relationships between Agropyron spicatum and Bromus tectorum. Ecol Monogr 37:89–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Harris GA, Wilson AM (1970) Competition for moisture among seedlings of annual and perennial grasses as influenced by root elongation at low temperature. Ecology 51:530–534CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Haugen R, Steffes L, Joy W, Brown P, Matzner S, Siemens DH (2008) Evolution of drought tolerance and defense: dependence of tradeoffs on mechanism, environment and defense switching. Oikos 117:231–244. doi:10.1111/j.2007.0030-1299.16111.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hunt R, Cornelissen JHC (1997) Components of relative growth rate and their interrelations in 59 temperate plant species. New Phytol 135:395–415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Huxman TE, Smith MD, Fay PA, Knapp AK, Shaw MR, Loik ME, Smith SD, Tissue DT, Zak JC, Weltzin JF, Pockmann WT, Sala OE, Haddad BM, Harte J, Kock GW, Schwinning S, Small EE, Williams DG (2004) Convergence across biomes to a common rain-use efficiency. Nature 429:651–654. doi:10.1038/nature02561 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Israelson OW, West FL (1922) Water holding capacity of irrigated soils. Utah Agric Exp Stn Res Bull 183:1–24Google Scholar
  16. James JJ, Drenovsky RE (2007) A basis for relative growth rate differences between native and invasive forb seedlings. Rangeland Ecol Manage 60:395–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jones HG (1992) Plants and microclimate: a quantitative approach to environmental plant physiology. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  18. Jones TA, Nielson DC, Carlson JR (1991) Development of a grazing-tolerant native grass for revegetating bluebunch wheatgrass sites. Rangelands 13:147–150Google Scholar
  19. Kappen L, Valladares F (2007) Opportunistic growth and desiccation tolerance: the ecological success of poikilohydrous autotrophs. In: Pugnaire FI, Valladares F (eds) Functional plant ecology. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 7–66Google Scholar
  20. Kramer PJ, Boyer JS (1995) Water relations of plants and soils. Academic Press, San DiegoGoogle Scholar
  21. Lambers H, Chapin FS III, Pons TL (1998) Plant physiological ecology. Springer-Verlag, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  22. Lambert S (2006) Seed use by Bureau of Land Management. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 17 Aug 2010
  23. Monsen SB, Stevens R, Shaw NL (2004) Restoring western ranges and wildlands. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR 136, vol 2. U. S. Forest Service, Fort Collins, ColoradoGoogle Scholar
  24. Morrison KJ, Kelley CA (1981) Secar bluebunch wheatgrass. EB 0991. Washington State University, Cooperative Extension, PullmanGoogle Scholar
  25. Naeem S (2006) Biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in restored ecosystem: extracting principles for a synthetic perspective. In: Falk DA, Palmer MA, Zelder JB (eds) Foundation of restoration ecology. Island Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  26. Ogle D (2002a) Plant fact sheet: bluebunch wheatgrass. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 17 Aug 2010
  27. Ogle D (2002b) Plant fact sheet: Snake River wheatgrass. Available via DIALOG. Accessed 17 Aug 2010
  28. Pereira JS, Chaves MM (1993) Plant water deficits in Mediterranean ecosystems. In: Smith JAC, Griffiths H (eds) Plant water deficits: plant responses from cell to community. BIOS Scientific Publishers, Oxford, pp 237–251Google Scholar
  29. Poorter H, Garnier E (2007) Ecological significance of inherent variation in relative growth rate and its components. In: Pugnaire FI, Valladares F (eds) Functional plant ecology. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 67–100Google Scholar
  30. Poorter H, Van der Werf A (1998) Is inherent variation in RGR determined by LAR at low irradiance and by NAR at high irradiance? A review of herbaceous species. In: Lambers H, Poorter H, Van Vuuren MMI (eds) Inherent variation in plant growth. Physiological mechanisms and ecological consequences. Backhuys, Leiden, pp 309–336Google Scholar
  31. Ramirez DA, Valladares F, Blasco A, Bellot J (2008) Effect of tussock size and soil water content on whole plant gas exchange in Stipa tenacissima L.: extrapolating from leaf versus modeling crown architecture. Env Exp Bot 62:376–388. doi:10.1016/j.envexpbot.2007.10.012 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Ryel RJ, Beyschlag W, Caldwell MM (1993) Foliage orientation and carbon gain in two tussock grasses as assessed with a new whole-plant gas-exchange model. Funct Ecol 7:115–124CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ryser P (2006) The mysterious root length. Plant Soil 286:1–6. doi:10.1007/s11104-006-9096-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ryser P, Lambers H (1995) Root and leaf attributes accounting for the performance of fast- and slow-growing grasses at different nutrient supply. Plant Soil 170:251–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sack L, Grubb PJ (2002) The combined impact of deep shade and drought on the growth and biomass allocation of shade-tolerant woody seedlings. Oecologia 131:175–185. doi:10.1007/s00442-002-0873-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. SAS (2003) SAS/STAT user’s guide, SAS Institute version 9.1, Cary, North CarolinaGoogle Scholar
  37. Songsri P, Jogloy S, Holbrook CC, Kesmala T, Vorasoot N, Akkasaeng C, Patanothai A (2009) Association of root, specific leaf area and SPAD chlorophyll meter reading to water use efficiency of peanut under different available soil water. Agr Water Manage 96:790–798. doi:10.1016/j.agwat.2008.10.009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Westoby M, Cunningham SA, Fonseca CR, Overton JM, Wright IJ (1998) Phylogeny and variation in light capture area deployed per unit investment in leaves: designs for selecting study species with a view to generalizing. In: Lambers H, Poorter H, van Vuuren MMI (eds) Variation in plant growth rate and productivity of higher plants. Backhuys, Leiden, pp 539–566Google Scholar
  39. Wright GC, Rao NRC, Farquhar GD (1994) Water use efficiency and carbon isotope discrimination in peanut under water deficit conditions. Crop Sci 34:92–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Xu Z, Zhou G (2008) Responses of leaf stomatal density to water status and its relationship with photosynthesis in a grass. J Exp Bot 59:3317–3325. doi:10.1093/jxb/ern185 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Young JA, Allen FL (1997) Cheatgrass and range science: 1930–1950. J Range Manage 50:530–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© US Government Employee 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jayanti Ray Mukherjee
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Thomas A. Jones
    • 4
  • Peter B. Adler
    • 2
  • Thomas A. Monaco
    • 4
  1. 1.Graduate Program, Ecology CenterUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  2. 2.Department of Wildland ResourcesUtah State UniversityLoganUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  4. 4.USDA-ARS Forage and Range Research LaboratoryLoganUSA

Personalised recommendations