Western land managers may have a new weapon in their frustrating – and so far losing – battle against invasive cheatgrass.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says early field tests of naturally occurring soil bacteria known as ACK55 show promise in controlling alien cheatgrass, a native of Eurasia that was accidentally introduced by settlers in the 1800s.
Cheatgrass has taken over millions of acres of federal land in Nevada and other Great Basin states, promoting huge, fast-moving wildfires that destroy sagebrush habitat and with it, food and shelter for pronghorn antelope, sage grouse and mule deer.
Scientists have for years looked for a biological agent to fight the plant pest. At the U.S. Forest Service Shrub Sciences Lab in Provo, Utah, research ecologist Susan Meyer has focused on a fungal disease, nicknamed the "black fingers of death," that attacks dormant cheatgrass seeds by injecting a toxin that stops germination.