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Relationships between Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), soil nutrients, and plant diversity in the Garry oak savannah ecosystem

Shaben, J. and J. H. Myers. 2010. Plant Ecology 207: 81-91


Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius), is a leguminous shrub, native to the Mediterranean, which has invaded most of the remaining Garry oak savannah ecosystems in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Here, it is considered to be a threat to the native plant community. We tested the hypothesis that broom would increase available soil nitrogen by comparing soil nutrients in contiguous broom-invaded and non-invaded sites. We then looked for changes in patterns of diversity in the herbaceous community that might indicate a role of Scotch broom in changing conditions following its invasion. Finally we carried out greenhouse assays to test whether broom had a greater impact on the growth of a native and an introduced grass compared to that of a native shrub. Broom was associated with only a weak trend in increased soil nitrogen, but a significant decrease in soil phosphorus was observed. Patterns of plant diversity differed between two sites. At one site, 60% of the plants whose abundances increased in the broom-invaded plots were introduced species while native species abundances decreased in the broom-invaded plots compared to broom-free plots. At the other site, 60% of the plants that caused the differences between broom-invaded and un-invaded plots were native species that were less abundant in the broom-invaded plots. Finally, in greenhouse assays grass growth was not affected as a result of being grown with broom; however, grasses appeared to produce more flowers when grown with broom. We conclude that broom does not necessarily modify soil nitrogen availability but may deplete soil phosphorus availability and that broom invasion can be associated with increase of exotic species and/or the decline of native species.

Key Words

Cytisus scoparius, Garry oak savannah ecosystem, PRS probes, soil nitrogen, invasive plant