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NMSU Launches Weed Identification Web Site

ALBUQUERQUE - To better connect with New Mexico's would-be weed warriors, New Mexico State University researchers have launched a new Web site that targets the state's most invasive and troublesome plant species.

Mark Renz, a weed specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service, tests the weed identification feature of a newly launched Web site. The site, http://weeds.nmsu.edu, also contains fact sheets, expert contacts and maps showing the spread of invasive species. (11/21/2005) (NMSU Agricultural Communications Photo by J. Victor Espinoza)

"This is the first time that anyone here in New Mexico has comprehensively tackled this problem using an Internet-based approach," said Mark Renz, a weed specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service. "The site will be a collection point for scientific information using a much more consumer-friendly format."

The site, http://weeds.nmsu.edu, was unveiled Friday at the New Mexico Vegetation Management Association Conference in Albuquerque. Highlighting problem plants of New Mexico and Southwestern states, it contains 122 of the most common weeds found in the state, and NMSU officials said that weed tally is expected to double by the end of next year.

Weed control is crucial in agricultural settings, where yields can be sharply reduced. In rangeland areas, weeds reduce forage for livestock. Nonnative weed species can be especially troublesome for urban homeowners.

"It's our hope that both our traditional clients and new urban audiences will find this site useful," Renz said.

One of the Web site's key features is an interactive weed identification tool that allows a visitor to select physical traits of an unknown weed. A computer program sifts through possibilities, ultimately arriving at the most likely candidate.

"The goal is to identify the weed with as little information as possible," Renz said. "Ideally, the person would start the identification process with the weed in hand. We're looking for specific plant characteristics, and it helps to have the real thing there."

The more information, the more focused the search. Users first determine whether the plant is a cactus, forb, woody plant, vine or grass. They narrow the search by answering questions about the weed's spines and flower color, along with leaf arrangement and type.

The result is a list of potential candidates that fit the search criteria or possibly the exact weed being sought if enough data is given. On the screen, the viewer will see a series of thumbnail photographs of the weed choices, along with detailed information about problem species such as salt cedar, African rue, Russian knapweed and starthistle.

Once the target weed has been identified, the individual can follow up with an Extension expert or continue using the Internet to find the most effective control measure, Renz said. In addition, there are links to detailed NMSU fact sheets on many of the state's most troublesome weed pests.

"Identifying the right weed is a critical step in any management process," said Jill Schroeder, an associate professor with NMSU's entomology, plant pathology and weed science department. "You have to know what you're dealing with because control is species specific."

NMSU researchers have spent decades studying a broad range of weeds in both urban and range settings. Weed management and biology publications will be available on the site, along with breaking information that might help control weeds.

The site's location maps highlight the presence or absence of more than two dozen particularly noxious weed species. "The maps help people understand how these invasive weed species are moving through the state and where new infestations may be popping up," Schroeder said.

The Web site includes names and contact numbers for 12 interdepartmental NMSU faculty members working in weed research, as well as resource links to other university, state and federal programs dealing with weed management.