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Western Innovator: Bacteria enlisted to battle cheatgrass

The study focuses on applying certain bacteria to cheatgrass and medusahead to inhibit the plants’ root growth.

By Dianna Troyer

For the Capital Press

Published on January 2, 2018 8:10AM

Matt Germino, a research ecologist, is overseeing a study in southwestern Idaho that uses bacteria to help control cheatgrass.

Courtesy Francis Kilkenny

Matt Germino, a research ecologist, is overseeing a study in southwestern Idaho that uses bacteria to help control cheatgrass.

Germino shows a plot sprayed by Rimsulfuron. All of the grasses in view are exotic annuals such as medusahead and cheatgrass. The next plot up, behind and beside him, was treated with bacteria the previous year. The plot will be studied for several years to determine if the exotic annuals are reduced on it.

Courtesy Francis Kilkenny

Germino shows a plot sprayed by Rimsulfuron. All of the grasses in view are exotic annuals such as medusahead and cheatgrass. The next plot up, behind and beside him, was treated with bacteria the previous year. The plot will be studied for several years to determine if the exotic annuals are reduced on it.


Matt Germino, supervisory research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Boise, is overseeing an innovative research project to use weed-suppressive bacteria to control non-native invasive cheatgrass and medusahead.

“We’re seeing some interesting activity so far,” says Germino, referring to plant growth on 84 small research plots in southwestern Idaho. The three-year study began in the late summer of 2016.

The plots are in three areas that were selected because annuals and perennials co-dominate. The areas are north of Eagle, on Bureau of Land Management land in the Snake River Plain, and on state land in the Owyhees.

“Applying bacteria isn’t a magic bullet but one of several tools that could be used to help restore land with native vegetation,” he says. “A systemic approach is the ticket. We need to combine what we learn from this research with grazing patterns and protecting the vigor of desirable native species.”

The study focuses on applying certain bacteria to cheatgrass and medusahead to inhibit the plants’ root growth.

Two strains of Pseudomonas fluorescens bacterium, named D-7 and MB-906, are being used because they can be applied in areas where perennial grasses and non-native grasses both grow. Other strains of the diverse bacteria have also been used successfully to clean oil spills in groundwater.

To learn how to best use the D-7 and MB-906, researchers are doing controlled burns, then applying bacterium with and without herbicides that kill non-native grasses, and with and without tillage.

The bacteria were also used in the aftermath of the 2015 Soda Fire in Owyhee County and fires in 2016 in hopes of giving perennial grasses a chance to grow without competition from cheatgrass.

“This may be one way to help restore burned areas to prevent the spread of exotic annuals,” says Germino. “We want to give desirable species a chance to fill the void.”

The $250,000 study is funded by several agencies. Along with a $75,000 Conservation Innovation Grant, administered through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, other agencies contributing include the Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Idaho Governor’s Office of Species Conservation.

“We plan on applying for additional funding for the final two years of the project,” says Germino. “We’d like to study this through 2020.”

Matt Germino

Age: 47

Occupation: Supervisory research ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey since 2011

Education: B.S. in environmental science, University of Massachusetts; M.S. and Ph.D. in botany, University of Wyoming

Hometown: Longmeadow, Mass.

Family: Wife, two children



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