Since the 1950s, many south Texas rangelands have been seeded with buffelgrass, a perennial C4 bunchgrass native to Africa that is believed to contribute to reductions in biodiversity. Forb species represent a critical habitat component throughout the breeding period for many wildlife species as seed (summer to fall), as green vegetative material (spring to summer), and as habitat for arthropods (spring to summer). Reductions in richness and diversity of crucial ecosystem components such as forbs and arthropods have large implications for grassland birds and other wildlife. We sampled annual and perennial forbs within 1-m2 quadrats on 15 study plots (1 ha; n = 20 quadrats/plot) at Chaparral Wildlife Management Area, in LaSalle and Dimmit counties, Texas, during 2005 and 2006. Study plots were divided into five light-buffelgrass plots (0 to 5% buffelgrass canopy coverage), five moderate-buffelgrass plots (5 to 25% buffelgrass canopy coverage), and five heavy-buffelgrass plots (> 25% buffelgrass canopy coverage). Buffelgrass in study plots was composed of naturalized plants, and was not deliberately planted. During 2005 we observed that plots with > 25% buffelgrass had a 73% reduction in forb canopy of native species, a 64% reduction in native forb species richness, and a 77% reduction in native forb stem density compared to plots with 0 to 5% buffelgrass. These trends in native forb reduction (−79% native forb canopy, −65% forb species richness, −80% forb stem density) were nearly identical in 2006, even with greatly reduced rainfall. Simple linear regression revealed negative relationships between buffelgrass cover, total exotic grass cover (buffelgrass and Lehmann lovegrass), and total grass cover and the richness, coverage, and density of forbs/m2. Reductions in diversity may have larger implications regarding ecosystem function and available useable space and densities of desired bird species such as northern bobwhite.
Nomenclature: Buffelgrass, Pennisetum ciliare (L.) Link; Lehmann lovegrass, Eragrostis lehmanniana Nees.