A synthesis of the effects of cheatgrass invasion on US great basin carbon storage.
Non-native, invasive Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass) is pervasive in sagebrush ecosystems in the Great Basin ecoregion of the western United States, competing with native plants and promoting more frequent fires. As a result, cheatgrass invasion likely alters carbon (C) storage in the region. Many studies have measured C pools in one or more common vegetation types: native sagebrush, invaded sagebrush and cheatgrass-dominated (often burned) sites, but these results have yet to be synthesized. We performed a literature review to identify studies assessing the consequences of invasion on C storage in above-ground biomass (AGB), below-ground biomass (BGB), litter, organic soil and total soil. We identified 41 articles containing 386 unique studies and estimated C storage across pools and vegetation types. We used linear mixed models to identify the main predictors of C storage. We found consistent declines in biomass C with invasion: AGB C was 55% lower in cheatgrass (40 ± 4 g C/m2) than native sagebrush (89 ± 27 g C/m2) and BGB C was 62% lower in cheatgrass (90 ± 17 g C/m2) than native sagebrush (238 ± 60 g C/m2). In contrast, litter C was >4× higher in cheatgrass (154 ± 12 g C/m2) than native sagebrush (32 ± 12 g C/m2). Soil organic C (SOC) in the top 10 cm was significantly higher in cheatgrass than in native or invaded sagebrush. SOC below 20 cm was significantly related to the time since most recent fire and losses were observed in deep SOC in cheatgrass >5 years after a fire. There were no significant changes in total soil C across vegetation types. Synthesis and applications. Cheatgrass invasion decreases biodiversity and rangeland productivity and alters fire regimes. Our findings indicate cheatgrass invasion also results in persistent biomass carbon (C) losses that occur with sagebrush replacement. We estimate that conversion from native sagebrush to cheatgrass leads to a net reduction of C storage in biomass and litter of 76 g C/m2, or 16 Tg C across the Great Basin without management practices like native sagebrush restoration or cheatgrass removal.