Date of this Version
Interannual differences in yield and species composition of herbaceous vegetation on semiarid rangelands are common and often related to variations in precipitation regime. Interspecific interactions that occur after drought-induced population fluxes of western ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya D.C.) were evaluated by removing western ragweed or associated species from 1-m2 quadrats at weekly intervals beginning in early May, June, or July 1991 or 1992 on high-seral sandhills prairie in Nebraska. The composite of peak standing crops for ragweed and each group of associated species was 77% greater during May–October 1991 (2 252 kg•ha-1) compared with 1992 (1 275 kg•ha-1) when April and May precipitation was 98 mm below average and a late frost occurred. Mean levels of western ragweed herbage up to 436 kg•ha-1 had no effect on associated species in 1991 when above average precipitation occurred throughout the growing season. In contrast, when an unusually dry spring occurred in 1992, relatively small mean levels of ragweed (189 kg•ha-1) reduced end-of-season standing herbage of rhizomatous C4 grasses on control plots by about 21% (137 kg•ha-1) with little effect on other associated species, regardless of when treatments were initiated. Within a given year, western ragweed density was seasonally constant, similar among treatments, and independent of preceding-year species composition. Severe defoliation of western ragweed had little effect on subsequent-year populations, indicating an ability to maintain primordia for several years with limited plant growth. Because western ragweed is not a strong competitor in the presence of vigorous graminoids, deferring use of June- or July-grazed pasture until after July in the subsequent year can minimize increases in western ragweed.