New Research Into “Prairie Plague”

June 10, 2014

BRANDON, MB – New research from Brandon University (BU) may be an important first step in understanding the impact of a noxious weed, toxic to cattle and growing across millions of acres in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Dakotas.

Dr. Terence McGonigle and Jeremy Timmer

Dr. Terence McGonigle and Jeremy Timmer

Dr. Terence McGonigle, Department of Biology, and former BU student Jeremy Timmer (BSc 2010), studied leafy spurge and its effect on grasses growing in 40,000 hectares of sandy prairie around Shilo, MB. Their research has just been published by The Prairie Naturalist.

“Leafy spurge is an invasive species introduced into western Canada 100 years ago,” says Dr. McGonigle, “a contaminant in grain seed brought over from Asia. Leafy spurge is abundant in Manitoba pastures, hay, forage, road sides, rail lines and utility corridors. Infested acreage persists or increases, because chemical control is expensive or against policy. Biological control by spurge-eating beetles is not effective on sandy soils. It seems we need to learn how to live with leafy spurge.”

The BU researchers studied plots with low, medium and high cover of leafy spurge, to determine how it affects naturally occurring grasses. Only one of the four dominant prairie grasses, porcupine grass, was less common in areas of high cover of leafy spurge. This summer, McGonigle is continuing the research, removing leafy spurge by weeding and monitoring the vegetation to see if porcupine grass comes back.

“This research is critical to prairie agri-business,” says Dr. Andrew Egan, Dean of Science at BU. “A report on leafy spurge prepared by this University in 2010 estimated a total economic impact in Manitoba alone of $40.2 million, based mainly on the value of lost grazing pastures for livestock production and costs for chemical control.”

The Department of National Defense paid for the latest research, as part of its mandate to be a responsible steward of crown lands.

Brandon University, founded in 1899, promotes excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship; educating students so that they can make a meaningful difference as engaged citizens and leaders.

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For more information, please contact:

Dr. Terence McGonigle
Professor, Department of Biology
204-727-9753
McGoniglet@brandonu.ca

Glen Kirby
Communications Officer
204-727-9762
kirbyg@brandonu.ca