Bromus tectorum, an invasive winter annual, has displaced native vegetation throughout the western United States. Bromus tectorum litter influences nutrient cycling near the soil surface as well as plant establishment. Failed seed production of B. tectorum occasionally occurs in the field, with plants exhibiting weak flowering culms that turn straw-colored in spring when normal plants are green or purple in color. Because annual grasses transport most soluble carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) to reproductive organs, seed production failure results in significantly different fates for these nutrients compared with normal plants. As part of larger efforts to understand events leading to large-scale seedling emergence failure (termed die-offs), occasionally observed in near mono-cultures of B. tectorum, we here test the hypothesis that prematurely senesced litter associated with seed production failure has higher soluble C and N than normal litter. C and N concentrations of aboveground biomass were compared for normal and prematurely senesced B. tectorum plants. Two methods were used to cause premature senescence: fungal pathogen infection with Clarireedia capillus-albis and glyphosate herbicide application. In a related experiment, field sampling of normal and prematurely senesced plants under natural conditions was conducted to compare C and N levels in-situ. Herbicide-induced senescence resulted in 1.5 to 2 times greater soluble C concentrations, but fungal infection had no effect on soluble C under experiment conditions. Prematurely senesced litter had increased total N concentrations, resulting in lower C:N ratios. The C:N ratio for prematurely senesced plants (averaged across all studies) was 68:1, whereas mature normal plants averaged 243:1. These findings illustrate failed seed production associated with premature senescence results in B. tectorum litter with significantly higher N concentrations and can result in increased soluble C concentrations. Altered nutrient status may contribute to changes in soil microbial activity, including activity of soilborne pathogens found in die-offs.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





seed development, soilborne pathogens, source-sink relations