Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Wildland Resources

Committee Chair(s)

Juan J. Villalba


Juan J. Villalba


Karen H. Beard


Frank E. Busby


James A. Pfister


Jong-Su Eun


The success of medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae ssp. asperum) as an invasive exotic grass in the western US is attributed in part to its low palatability. The nutritional context where medusahead grows can be modulated by the use of supplements that increase herbivores’ preference for unpalatable feeds. Additionally, positive experiences early in life (with mother, with supplements) can have long-life influences on preference for unpalatable feeds. To test the influence of the nutritional context on medusahead intake, ewes grazed with their lambs during summer of 2013 on medusahead-infested rangeland with (Treatment) or without (Control) the daily provision of an energy-rich supplement. To test for the effect of experience early in life at grazing medusahead on use of this weed later in life, lambs that grazed with their mothers during 2013 (Experienced) were exposed to medusahead (in pens and during grazing) as yearlings during summer of 2014 along with inexperienced (Control) animals. To better understand the unpalatability of medusahead, the fermentation kinetics of medusahead at different phenological stages and particle sizes was assessed. Ewes grazing with their lambs showed low use of medusahead (5% of the grazing events recorded), even when supplemented. Nevertheless, medusahead use increased across the grazing period and utilization was similar to medusahead abundance in the plant community. Use of medusahead by nursing lambs was correlated with that observed by their mothers and lambs utilized medusahead to the same extent either before or after weaning. Yearlings in pens showed low intake of medusahead and a cyclic pattern of intake across days. However, experienced yearlings displayed a more even intake of medusahead across days and a greater gain-to-feed ratio than Control yearlings. All yearlings showed low to nil use of medusahead during grazing. Medusahead had lower fermentation rates than alfalfa hay and fermentation rates declined with plant maturity. Organic matter digestibility for medusahead declined as particle size of the substrate increased, a relationship that explains the low palatability of the weed. These results provide the foundation for grazing treatments aimed at reducing the abundance of the weed or at preventing its spread in rangelands with different levels of medusahead infestations.



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