Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
Contact Information
  • Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems
  • 333 Broadway SE. Suite 115
  • Albuquerque, NM 87102-3497
  • 505-724-3660
  • 505-724-3688 (fax)
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Exploring the Potential for Cheatgrass Biocontrol

Project Title

Exploring the Potential for Cheatgrass Biocontrol with Naturally Occurring Fungal Pathogens


For the last twenty years, a research group led by Susan Meyer at the RMRS Shrub Sciences Laboratory has been working to understand why cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) is such a successful invader in the Intermountain West, and how it might be controlled in conjunction with restoration seedings. Biocontrol using naturally occurring fungal pathogens is a novel approach that, while not completely effective when used alone, could provide valuable tools for use in conjunction with other control methods. Currently the most promising biocontrol organism is a fungal seed pathogen that can kill dormant cheatgrass seeds and also sometimes a high proportion of germinable seeds as well. This pathogen (Pyrenophora semeniperda) has been dubbed 'black fingers of death' because of the fingerlike, black fruiting bodies that protrude from killed seeds. Research has included extensive work on the population and evolutionary genetics of both cheatgrass and its pathogens, as well as biocontrol technology research aimed directly at developing effective field application methods. In some field inoculation treatments with the black fingers of death pathogen, complete control of the dormant carryover seed bank has been achieved, and the goal of a practical, safe, and cost-effective commercial product for cheatgrass biocontrol on rangelands is now within reach. This biocontrol product addresses the problem of ungerminated seeds that carry over across years and hamper establishment success in restoration seedings even after successful control of germinated cheatgrass seeds or established stands.

Selected Publications

Crushing the bulk inoculum
Crushing the bulk inoculum

GSD Principal Investigators

Meyer, Susan    Research Ecologist    801-356-5125

Cooperators and Sponsors

<em>Pyrenophora semeniperda</em> cultures
Pyrenophora semeniperda cultures growing under black and white light

Principle Investigators

  • Julie Beckstead, Gonzaga University
  • Phil Allen, Brigham Young University
  • Craig Coleman, Brigham Young University
  • Brad Geary, Brigham Young University
  • Beth Leger, University of Nevada Reno


  • Bureau of Land Management
  • Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument
  • Hanford Reach National Monument


  • CSREES National Research Initiative
  • Idaho Army National Guard
  • Joint Fire Sciences Program
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • USFS State and Private Forestry

Related Links

Cheatgrass Biocontrol

Portrait of the <em>Pyrenophora semeniperda</em> pathogen
Portrait of the Pyrenophora semeniperda pathogen