Desert Habitat


March 12, 2002

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Desert Misfits

Today there are some plants found in the desert that do not belong there. These plants are misfits, and do not benefit the ecosystem in which they were introduced. Idaho is no different. It, too, has its share of misfit plant species. These plants species are referred to as exotic, alien, or non-native species and were introduced from other countries such as Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, India, Mediterranean area, South America, and Russia.

Why were exotic plant species introduced?

Many exotic plant species were introduced with the idea that they would serve a great purpose and provide excellent benefit to all who used them (e.g. shade trees to control wind and erosion, forage crops for livestock, watershed improvement, beautify landscapes, etc.). In some cases, alien plant species were transported and introduced unintentionally through immigrants and their belongings, or with imported goods. Regardless of how they arrived, as the years have passed since their introduction, we have realized that many of the introduced non-natives are more of a problem and threat than a benefit.

CheatgrassFor example, cheatgrass was introduced into the United States form Eurasia with the idea it would be a great food source for livestock and wildlife. That is true in early spring before its seeds emerge, but it is practically worthless throughout the remainder of the year.

Cheatgrass, once dry, is a great fuel for fire. When fire becomes more frequent in a sagebrush-dominated plant community, it kills the shrub, and out-competes other native plants for essential nutrients and moisture. Eventually the cheatgrass takes over and the plant community becomes a monoculture where a varied and productive plant community once stood.

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