Plant–plant interactions are key processes that strongly affect the survival, growth and reproduction of individuals in plant communities. In grasslands, the micro‐environment generated under the canopy of shrubs could differentially affect co‐occurring species with different abiotic requirements. In a C3/C4grassland with scattered shrubs, we asked the following questions: (a) Does the aerial effect, the below‐ground effect, and the net effect of shrubs affect the vegetative and reproductive biomass, the number of tillers, the biomass allocation, and the leaf elongation rate of grasses? and (b) Do these effects differ between C3and C4grasses?
Temperate sub‐humid grassland of Uruguay.
We planted one C3and two C4grasses under a shrub canopy and in adjacent open sites. Half of the grasses were planted with a fabric bag to reduce root competition with the shrub. We measured leaf elongation rate, the number of tillers produced and the biomass of the grasses in every treatment. We also measured photosynthetic photon flux density (
Root biomass, aerial biomass and reproductive biomass, the number of tillers and the leaf elongation rate of the C4grasses were negatively affected by the reduction in radiation and probably by below‐ground competition with the shrub. On the other hand, the leaf elongation rate of the C3grasses was positively affected by the shrub canopy.
Our results show the interplay between plant interactions and photosynthetic metabolism on the vegetative and reproductive performance of grasses. The micro‐environmental conditions generated below shrub canopies create a more appropriate site for the growth of C3than for C4grasses. These results show that shrubs may differentially affect co‐occurring species with different abiotic requirements.
- NSF-PAR ID:
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- Journal Name:
- Journal of Vegetation Science
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- p. 203-211
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Excessive phosphorus (P) applications to croplands can contribute to eutrophication of surface waters through surface runoff and subsurface (leaching) losses. We analyzed leaching losses of total dissolved P (TDP) from no-till corn, hybrid poplar (Populus nigra X P. maximowiczii), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus), native grasses, and restored prairie, all planted in 2008 on former cropland in Michigan, USA. All crops except corn (13 kg P ha−1 year−1) were grown without P fertilization. Biomass was harvested at the end of each growing season except for poplar. Soil water at 1.2 m depth was sampled weekly to biweekly for TDP determination during March–November 2009–2016 using tension lysimeters. Soil test P (0–25 cm depth) was measured every autumn. Soil water TDP concentrations were usually below levels where eutrophication of surface waters is frequently observed (> 0.02 mg L−1) but often higher than in deep groundwater or nearby streams and lakes. Rates of P leaching, estimated from measured concentrations and modeled drainage, did not differ statistically among cropping systems across years; 7-year cropping system means ranged from 0.035 to 0.072 kg P ha−1 year−1 with large interannual variation. Leached P was positively related to STP, which decreased over the 7 years in all systems. These results indicate that both P-fertilized and unfertilized cropping systems may leach legacy P from past cropland management. Experimental details The Biofuel Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) is located at the W.K. Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) (42.3956° N, 85.3749° W; elevation 288 m asl) in southwestern Michigan, USA. This site is a part of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (www.glbrc.org) and is a Long-term Ecological Research site (www.lter.kbs.msu.edu). Soils are mesic Typic Hapludalfs developed on glacial outwash54 with high sand content (76% in the upper 150 cm) intermixed with silt-rich loess in the upper 50 cm55. The water table lies approximately 12–14 m below the surface. The climate is humid temperate with a mean annual air temperature of 9.1 °C and annual precipitation of 1005 mm, 511 mm of which falls between May and September (1981–2010)56,57. The BCSE was established as a randomized complete block design in 2008 on preexisting farmland. Prior to BCSE establishment, the field was used for grain crop and alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) production for several decades. Between 2003 and 2007, the field received a total of ~ 300 kg P ha−1 as manure, and the southern half, which contains one of four replicate plots, received an additional 206 kg P ha−1 as inorganic fertilizer. The experimental design consists of five randomized blocks each containing one replicate plot (28 by 40 m) of 10 cropping systems (treatments) (Supplementary Fig. S1; also see Sanford et al.58). Block 5 is not included in the present study. Details on experimental design and site history are provided in Robertson and Hamilton57 and Gelfand et al.59. Leaching of P is analyzed in six of the cropping systems: (i) continuous no-till corn, (ii) switchgrass, (iii) miscanthus, (iv) a mixture of five species of native grasses, (v) a restored native prairie containing 18 plant species (Supplementary Table S1), and (vi) hybrid poplar. Agronomic management Phenological cameras and field observations indicated that the perennial herbaceous crops emerged each year between mid-April and mid-May. Corn was planted each year in early May. Herbaceous crops were harvested at the end of each growing season with the timing depending on weather: between October and November for corn and between November and December for herbaceous perennial crops. Corn stover was harvested shortly after corn grain, leaving approximately 10 cm height of stubble above the ground. 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Poplar was fertilized once with 157 kg N ha−1 in 2010 after the canopy had closed. Sampling of subsurface soil water and soil for P determination Subsurface soil water samples were collected beneath the root zone (1.2 m depth) using samplers installed at approximately 20 cm into the unconsolidated sand of 2Bt2 and 2E/Bt horizons (soils at the site are described in Crum and Collins54). Soil water was collected from two kinds of samplers: Prenart samplers constructed of Teflon and silica (http://www.prenart.dk/soil-water-samplers/) in replicate blocks 1 and 2 and Eijkelkamp ceramic samplers (http://www.eijkelkamp.com) in blocks 3 and 4 (Supplementary Fig. S1). The samplers were installed in 2008 at an angle using a hydraulic corer, with the sampling tubes buried underground within the plots and the sampler located about 9 m from the plot edge. There were no consistent differences in TDP concentrations between the two sampler types. Beginning in the 2009 growing season, subsurface soil water was sampled at weekly to biweekly intervals during non-frozen periods (April–November) by applying 50 kPa of vacuum to each sampler for 24 h, during which the extracted water was collected in glass bottles. Samples were filtered using different filter types (all 0.45 µm pore size) depending on the volume of leachate collected: 33-mm dia. cellulose acetate membrane filters when volumes were less than 50 mL; and 47-mm dia. Supor 450 polyethersulfone membrane filters for larger volumes. Total dissolved phosphorus (TDP) in water samples was analyzed by persulfate digestion of filtered samples to convert all phosphorus forms to soluble reactive phosphorus, followed by colorimetric analysis by long-pathlength spectrophotometry (UV-1800 Shimadzu, Japan) using the molybdate blue method60, for which the method detection limit was ~ 0.005 mg P L−1. Between 2009 and 2016, soil samples (0–25 cm depth) were collected each autumn from all plots for determination of soil test P (STP) by the Bray-1 method61, using as an extractant a dilute hydrochloric acid and ammonium fluoride solution, as is recommended for neutral to slightly acidic soils. The measured STP concentration in mg P kg−1 was converted to kg P ha−1 based on soil sampling depth and soil bulk density (mean, 1.5 g cm−3). Sampling of water samples from lakes, streams and wells for P determination In addition to chemistry of soil and subsurface soil water in the BCSE, waters from lakes, streams, and residential water supply wells were also sampled during 2009–2016 for TDP analysis using Supor 450 membrane filters and the same analytical method as for soil water. These water bodies are within 15 km of the study site, within a landscape mosaic of row crops, grasslands, deciduous forest, and wetlands, with some residential development (Supplementary Fig. S2, Supplementary Table S2). Details of land use and cover change in the vicinity of KBS are given in Hamilton et al.48, and patterns in nutrient concentrations in local surface waters are further discussed in Hamilton62. Leaching estimates, modeled drainage, and data analysis Leaching was estimated at daily time steps and summarized as total leaching on a crop-year basis, defined from the date of planting or leaf emergence in a given year to the day prior to planting or emergence in the following year. TDP concentrations (mg L−1) of subsurface soil water were linearly interpolated between sampling dates during non-freezing periods (April–November) and over non-sampling periods (December–March) based on the preceding November and subsequent April samples. Daily rates of TDP leaching (kg ha−1) were calculated by multiplying concentration (mg L−1) by drainage rates (m3 ha−1 day−1) modeled by the Systems Approach for Land Use Sustainability (SALUS) model, a crop growth model that is well calibrated for KBS soil and environmental conditions. SALUS simulates yield and environmental outcomes in response to weather, soil, management (planting dates, plant population, irrigation, N fertilizer application, and tillage), and genetics63. The SALUS water balance sub-model simulates surface runoff, saturated and unsaturated water flow, drainage, root water uptake, and evapotranspiration during growing and non-growing seasons63. The SALUS model has been used in studies of evapotranspiration48,51,64 and nutrient leaching20,65,66,67 from KBS soils, and its predictions of growing-season evapotranspiration are consistent with independent measurements based on growing-season soil water drawdown53 and evapotranspiration measured by eddy covariance68. Phosphorus leaching was assumed insignificant on days when SALUS predicted no drainage. Volume-weighted mean TDP concentrations in leachate for each crop-year and for the entire 7-year study period were calculated as the total dissolved P leaching flux (kg ha−1) divided by the total drainage (m3 ha−1). One-way ANOVA with time (crop-year) as the fixed factor was conducted to compare total annual drainage rates, P leaching rates, volume-weighted mean TDP concentrations, and maximum aboveground biomass among the cropping systems over all seven crop-years as well as with TDP concentrations from local lakes, streams, and groundwater wells. When a significant (α = 0.05) difference was detected among the groups, we used the Tukey honest significant difference (HSD) post-hoc test to make pairwise comparisons among the groups. In the case of maximum aboveground biomass, we used the Tukey–Kramer method to make pairwise comparisons among the groups because the absence of poplar data after the 2013 harvest resulted in unequal sample sizes. We also used the Tukey–Kramer method to compare the frequency distributions of TDP concentrations in all of the soil leachate samples with concentrations in lakes, streams, and groundwater wells, since each sample category had very different numbers of measurements. Individual spreadsheets in “data table_leaching_dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen.xls” 1. annual precip_drainage 2. biomass_corn, perennial grasses 3. biomass_poplar 4. annual N leaching _vol-wtd conc 5. Summary_N leached 6. annual DOC leachin_vol-wtd conc 7. growing season length 8. correlation_nh4 VS no3 9. correlations_don VS no3_doc VS don Each spreadsheet is described below along with an explanation of variates. Note that ‘nan’ indicate data are missing or not available. First row indicates header; second row indicates units 1. Spreadsheet: annual precip_drainage Description: Precipitation measured from nearby Kellogg Biological Station (KBS) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Weather station, over 2009-2016 study period. Data shown in Figure 1; original data source for precipitation (https://lter.kbs.msu.edu/datatables/7). Drainage estimated from SALUS crop model. Note that drainage is percolation out of the root zone (0-125 cm). Annual precipitation and drainage values shown here are calculated for growing and non-growing crop periods. Variate Description year year of the observation crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” precip_G precipitation during growing period (milliMeter) precip_NG precipitation during non-growing period (milliMeter) drainage_G drainage during growing period (milliMeter) drainage_NG drainage during non-growing period (milliMeter) 2. Spreadsheet: biomass_corn, perennial grasses Description: Maximum aboveground biomass measurements from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass and restored prairie plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2015. Data shown in Figure 2. Variate Description year year of the observation date day of the observation (mm/dd/yyyy) crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” replicate each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 station stations (S1, S2 and S3) of samplings within the plot. For more details, refer to link (https://data.sustainability.glbrc.org/protocols/156) species plant species that are rooted within the quadrat during the time of maximum biomass harvest. See protocol for more information, refer to link (http://lter.kbs.msu.edu/datatables/36) For maize biomass, grain and whole biomass reported in the paper (weed biomass or surface litter are excluded). Surface litter biomass not included in any crops; weed biomass not included in switchgrass and miscanthus, but included in grass mixture and prairie. fraction Fraction of biomass biomass_plot biomass per plot on dry-weight basis (Grams_Per_SquareMeter) biomass_ha biomass (megaGrams_Per_Hectare) by multiplying column biomass per plot with 0.01 3. Spreadsheet: biomass_poplar Description: Maximum aboveground biomass measurements from poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2015. Data shown in Figure 2. Note that poplar biomass was estimated from crop growth curves until the poplar was harvested in the winter of 2013-14. Variate Description year year of the observation method methods of poplar biomass sampling date day of the observation (mm/dd/yyyy) replicate each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 diameter_at_ground poplar diameter (milliMeter) at the ground diameter_at_15cm poplar diameter (milliMeter) at 15 cm height biomass_tree biomass per plot (Grams_Per_Tree) biomass_ha biomass (megaGrams_Per_Hectare) by multiplying biomass per tree with 0.01 4. Spreadsheet: annual N leaching_vol-wtd conc Description: Annual leaching rate (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) and volume-weighted mean N concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) of nitrate (no3) and dissolved organic nitrogen (don) in the leachate samples collected from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2016. Data for nitrogen leached and volume-wtd mean N concentration shown in Figure 3a and Figure 3b, respectively. Note that ammonium (nh4) concentration were much lower and often undetectable (<0.07 milliGrams_N_Per_Liter). Also note that in 2009 and 2010 crop-years, data from some replicates are missing. Variate Description crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” crop-year year of the observation replicate each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 no3 leached annual leaching rates of nitrate (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) don leached annual leaching rates of don (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) vol-wtd no3 conc. Volume-weighted mean no3 concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) vol-wtd don conc. Volume-weighted mean don concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) 5. Spreadsheet: summary_N leached Description: Summary of total amount and forms of N leached (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) and the percent of applied N lost to leaching over the seven years for corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2016. Data for nitrogen amount leached shown in Figure 4a and percent of applied N lost shown in Figure 4b. Note the fraction of unleached N includes in harvest, accumulation in root biomass, soil organic matter or gaseous N emissions were not measured in the study. Variate Description crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” no3 leached annual leaching rates of nitrate (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) don leached annual leaching rates of don (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) N unleached N unleached (kiloGrams_N_Per_Hectare) in other sources are not studied % of N applied N lost to leaching % of N applied N lost to leaching 6. Spreadsheet: annual DOC leachin_vol-wtd conc Description: Annual leaching rate (kiloGrams_Per_Hectare) and volume-weighted mean N concentrations (milliGrams_Per_Liter) of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the leachate samples collected from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2016. Data for DOC leached and volume-wtd mean DOC concentration shown in Figure 5a and Figure 5b, respectively. Note that in 2009 and 2010 crop-years, water samples were not available for DOC measurements. Variate Description crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” crop-year year of the observation replicate each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 doc leached annual leaching rates of nitrate (kiloGrams_Per_Hectare) vol-wtd doc conc. volume-weighted mean doc concentration (milliGrams_Per_Liter) 7. Spreadsheet: growing season length Description: Growing season length (days) of corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2009-2015. Date shown in Figure S2. Note that growing season is from the date of planting or emergence to the date of harvest (or leaf senescence in case of poplar). Variate Description crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” year year of the observation growing season length growing season length (days) 8. Spreadsheet: correlation_nh4 VS no3 Description: Correlation of ammonium (nh4+) and nitrate (no3-) concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) in the leachate samples from corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2013-2015. Data shown in Figure S3. Note that nh4+ concentration in the leachates was very low compared to no3- and don concentration and often undetectable in three crop-years (2013-2015) when measurements are available. Variate Description crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” date date of the observation (mm/dd/yyyy) replicate each crop has four replicated plots, R1, R2, R3 and R4 nh4 conc nh4 concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) no3 conc no3 concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) 9. Spreadsheet: correlations_don VS no3_doc VS don Description: Correlations of don and nitrate concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter); and doc (milliGrams_Per_Liter) and don concentrations (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) in the leachate samples of corn, switchgrass, miscanthus, native grass, restored prairie and poplar plots in Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC) Biomass Cropping System Experiment (BCSE) during 2013-2015. Data of correlation of don and nitrate concentrations shown in Figure S4 a and doc and don concentrations shown in Figure S4 b. Variate Description crop “corn” “switchgrass” “miscanthus” “nativegrass” “restored prairie” “poplar” year year of the observation don don concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) no3 no3 concentration (milliGrams_N_Per_Liter) doc doc concentration (milliGrams_Per_Liter)more » « less
INTRODUCTION Inherent in traditional views of ape origins is the idea that, like living apes, early large-bodied apes lived in tropical forests. In response to constraints related to locomoting in forest canopies, it has been proposed that early apes evolved their quintessential upright torsos and acrobatic climbing and suspensory abilities, enhancing their locomotor versatility, to distribute their weight among small supports and thus reach ripe fruit in the terminal branches. This feeding and locomotor transition from a quadruped with a horizontal torso is thought to have occurred in the Middle Miocene due to an increasingly seasonal climate and feeding competition from evolving monkeys. Although ecological and behavioral comparisons among living apes and monkeys provide evidence for versions of terminal branch forest frugivory hypotheses, corroboration from the early ape fossil record has been lacking, as have detailed reconstructions of the habitats where the first apes evolved. RATIONALE The Early Miocene fossil site of Moroto II in Uganda provides a unique opportunity to test the predictions of terminal branch forest frugivory hypotheses. Moroto II documents the oldest [21 million years ago (Ma)] well-established paleontological record of ape teeth and postcranial bones from a single locality and preserves paleoecological proxies to reconstruct the environment. The following lines of evidence from Moroto II were analyzed: (i) the functional anatomy of femora and a vertebra attributed to the ape Morotopithecus ; (ii) dental traits, including molar shape and isotopic profiles of Morotopithecus enamel; (iii) isotopic dietary paleoecology of associated fossil mammals; (iv) biogeochemical signals from paleosols (ancient soils) that reflect local relative proportions of C 3 (trees and shrubs) and C 4 (tropical grasses and sedges that can endure water stress) vegetation as well as rainfall; and (v) assemblages of phytoliths, microscopic plant-derived silica bodies that reflect past plant communities. RESULTS A short, strong femur biomechanically favorable to vertical climbing and a vertebra indicating a dorsostable lower back confirm that ape fossils from Moroto II shared locomotor traits with living apes. Both Morotopithecus and a smaller ape from the site have elongated molars with well-developed crests for shearing leaves. Carbon isotopic signatures of the enamel of these apes and of other fossil mammals indicate that some mammals consistently fed on water-stressed C 3 plants, and possibly also C 4 vegetation, in a woodland setting. Carbon isotope values of pedogenic carbonates, paleosol organic matter, and plant waxes all point to substantial C 4 grass biomass on the landscape. Analysis of paleosols also indicates subhumid, strongly seasonal rainfall, and phytolith assemblages include forms from both arid-adapted C 4 grasses and forest-indicator plants. CONCLUSION The ancient co-occurrence of dental specializations for leaf eating, rather than ripe fruit consumption, along with ape-like locomotor abilities counters the predictions of the terminal branch forest frugivory hypotheses. The combined paleoecological evidence situates Morotopithecus in a woodland with a broken canopy and substantial grass understory including C 4 species. These findings call for a new paradigm for the evolutionary origins of early apes. We propose that seasonal, wooded environments may have exerted previously unrecognized selective pressures in the evolution of arboreal apes. For example, some apes may have needed to access leaves in the higher canopy in times of low fruit availability and to be adept at ascending and descending from trees that lacked a continuous canopy. Hominoid habitat comparisons. Shown are reconstructions of a traditionally conceived hominoid habitat ( A ) and the 21 Ma Moroto II, Uganda, habitat ( B ).more » « less
Woody encroachment into grasslands is a worldwide phenomenon partially influenced by climate change, including extreme weather events.
Larrea tridentatais a common shrub throughout the warm deserts of North America that has encroached into grasslands over the past 150 years. Physiological measurements suggest that the northern distribution of L. tridentatais limited by cold temperatures; thus extreme winter events may slow or reverse shrub expansion. We tested this limitation by measuring the response of individual L. tridentatashrubs to an extreme winter cold (−31°C) event to assess shrub mortality and rate of recovery of surviving shrubs. Location
Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro County, New Mexico, USA.
Canopy dieback and recovery following an extreme cold event were measured for 869 permanently marked individual
L. tridentatashrubs in grass–shrub ecotone and shrubland sites. Individual shrubs were monitored for amount of canopy dieback, rate of recovery, and seed set for three growing seasons after the freeze event. Results
Shrubs rapidly suffered a nearly complete loss of canopy leaf area across all sites. Although canopy loss was high, mortality was low and 99% of shrubs resprouted during the first growing season after the freeze event. Regrowth rates were similar within ecotone and shrubland sites, even when damage by frost was larger in the latter. After three years of recovery,
L. tridentatacanopies had regrown on average 23–83% of the original pre‐freeze canopy sizes across the sites. Conclusions
We conclude that isolated extreme cold events may temporarily decrease shrubland biomass but they do not slow or reverse shrub expansion. These events are less likely to occur in the future as regional temperatures increase under climate change.
Fire exclusion and mismanaged grazing are globally important drivers of environmental change in mesic C4grasslands and savannas. Although interest is growing in prescribed fire for grassland restoration, we have little long‐term experimental evidence of the influence of burn season on the recovery of herbaceous plant communities, encroachment by trees and shrubs, and invasion by exotic grasses. We conducted a prescribed fire experiment (seven burns between 2001 and 2019) in historically fire‐excluded and overgrazed grasslands of central Texas. Sites were assigned to one of four experimental treatments: summer burns (warm season, lightning season), fall burns (early cool season), winter burns (late cool season), or unburned (fire exclusion). To assess restoration outcomes of the experiment, in 2019, we identified old‐growth grasslands to serve as reference sites. Herbaceous‐layer plant communities in all experimental sites were compositionally and functionally distinct from old‐growth grasslands, with little recovery of perennial C4grasses and long‐lived forbs. Unburned sites were characterized by several species of tree, shrub, and vine; summer sites were characterized by certain C3grasses and forbs; and fall and winter sites were intermediate in composition to the unburned and summer sites. Despite compositional differences, all treatments had comparable plot‐level plant species richness (range 89–95 species/1000 m2). At the local‐scale, summer sites (23 species/m2) and old‐growth grasslands (20 species/m2) supported greater richness than unburned sites (15 species/m2), but did not differ significantly from fall or winter sites. Among fire treatments, summer and winter burns most consistently produced the vegetation structure of old‐growth grasslands (e.g., mean woody canopy cover of 9%). But whereas winter burns promoted the invasive grass
Bothriochloa ischaemumby maintaining areas with low canopy cover, summer burns simultaneously limited woody encroachment and controlled B. ischaemuminvasion. Our results support a growing body of literature that shows that prescribed fire alone, without the introduction of plant propagules, cannot necessarily restore old‐growth grassland community composition. Nonetheless, this long‐term experiment demonstrates that prescribed burns implemented in the summer can benefit restoration by preventing woody encroachment while also controlling an invasive grass. We suggest that fire season deserves greater attention in grassland restoration planning and ecological research.
Grassland-to-shrubland transition is a common form of land degradation in drylands worldwide. It is often attributed to changes in disturbance regimes, particularly overgrazing. A myriad of direct and indirect effects (e.g., accelerated soil erosion) of grazing may favor shrubs over grasses, but their relative importance is unclear. We tested the hypothesis that topsoil “winnowing” by wind erosion would differentially affect grass and shrub seedling establishment to promote shrub recruitment over that of grass.
We monitored germination and seedling growth of contrasting perennial grass (
Bouteloua eriopoda, Sporobolus airoides, and Aristida purpurea) and shrub ( Prosopis glandulosa, Atriplex canescens, and Larrea tridentata) functional groups on field-collected non-winnowed and winnowed soils under well-watered greenhouse conditions. Results
Non-winnowed soils were finer-textured and had higher nutrient contents than winnowed soils, but based on desorption curves, winnowed soils had more plant-available moisture. Contrary to expectations, seed germination and seedling growth on winnowed and non-winnowed soils were comparable within a given species. The N2-fixing deciduous shrub
P. glandulosawas first to emerge and complete germination, and had the greatest biomass accumulation of all species. Conclusions
Germination and early seedling growth of grasses and shrubs on winnowed soils were not adversely nor differentially affected comparing with that observed on non-winnowed soils under well-watered greenhouse conditions. Early germination and rapid growth may give
P. glandulosaa competitive advantage over grasses and other shrub species at the establishment stage in grazed grasslands. Field establishment experiments are needed to confirm our findings in these controlled environment trials.