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Effects of soil nitrogen availability and native grass diversity on exotic forb dominance

Heckman, R. W. and Carr, D. E.. 2016.


Exotic plants are often most successful in high resource environments. By drawing down available resources, species-rich communities may be able to reduce exotic success when resource supply is elevated. We tested the prediction that exotic success would be greatest in species-poor communities when nitrogen availability is high. We also tested two underlying assumptions of this prediction: species-rich communities draw down soil nitrogen availability more than species-poor communities following fertilization and exotic success increases when soil nitrogen availability is high. In a restored grassland where native grass diversity was manipulated (one, three, or five-species) seven years earlier to form a gradient in species richness, we manipulated nitrogen availability directly via fertilization, and indirectly via burning. We then examined the success of the exotic forb Galium verum L. Contrary to our prediction, diversity and nutrient treatments did not jointly influence exotic success. Instead, one-time fertilization increased exotic biomass in the first year of the study. This likely occurred because the effect of nutrient treatments on nitrogen availability was independent of diversity treatment. Thus, we found no evidence that species-rich communities are better able to reduce exotic biomass when nitrogen is added than are species-poor communities. This suggests that in some systems, the effects of increasing species richness can be overwhelmed by the effects of nutrient addition that promote exotic success.

Key Words

Biotic resistance; Resource pulse; Spring fire; Tallgrass prairie