Monday, September 10, 2012

If You Can't Kill the Bastard with Black Fingers of Death, Nail the Bastard with Head Smut.

Cool title to a blog post, no?  Well, what we're talking about here is a battle of ecology.  Back in the 1800's some contaminated seed included a plant called Cheatgrass.  All over the southwest, it is taking over the landscape.   Something had to be done to combat this growing menace.

Cheatgrass, native to the steppes of Eurasia, was introduced to America through contaminated seed in the 1890s. It was first found in Nevada in 1906 and now dominates roughly 20 million acres of the West, Meyer said.
I've always been facinated by these little battles that seem to take place on our homeland on a regular, and sometimes unknown basis.  In this case, it was thought that the best way to combat cheatgrass was with another living entity.  FUNGUS.

 At Skull Valley, they study the black fingers of death.
These scientists aren't mad, and this isn't a B-grade horror flick.
Rather, researchers with the U.S. Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station are closely examining a fungus that has potential to help control the spread of cheatgrass, an invading plant spreading across millions of acres of the Great Basin at alarming cost to its ecology.
The fungus' catchy moniker came from the tiny, hairlike filaments that emerge from cheatgrass seeds after it attacks.
Nifty, huh?  Well, it's not totally working.
 While deadly at times, the fungus does not appear particularly effective in killing cheatgrass seeds when they are rapidly germinating in the fall, Meyer said. Instead, it concentrates only on those seeds that don't germinate, diminishing its potential. That means the fungus might be most useful when applied in conjunction with other treatments such as the application of herbicides or controlled burning that eliminate germinating seeds.
Fear not.  There is another fungus detrimental to cheatgrass.  

Earlier studies focused on another fungus - head smut - that interfered with cheatgrass reproduction. And researchers are trying to determine what pathogens might be responsible for large-scale die-offs of cheatgrass in parts of the Great Basin .
 Like I aways say.  If you can't kill the bastard with Black Fingers of Death, nail the bastard with Head Smut.

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