Original Papers

Oecologia

, Volume 79, Issue 4, pp 533-541

First online:

Competition for soil water between annual plants and blue oak (Quercus douglasii) seedlings

  • D. R. GordonAffiliated withGraduate Group in Ecology and Department of Agronomy and Range Scinece, University of California
  • , J. M. MenkeAffiliated withGraduate Group in Ecology and Department of Agronomy and Range Scinece, University of California
  • , K. J. RiceAffiliated withGraduate Group in Ecology and Department of Agronomy and Range Scinece, University of California

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Summary

We examined the competitive effects of two annual species on soil water potential and blue oak (Quercus douglasii Hook & Arn.) seedling growth and water relations. Two densities of the annual grass Bromus diandrus (Roth.) (100/dm2, 3.6/dm2) and one density of the annual forb Erodium botrys (Cav.) (3.6/dm2) comprised plant neighborhoods around the oak seedlings grown in 1 m deep boxes. Rates of soil water depletion differed among neighborhoods. Soil in the Erodium neighborhoods dried significantly more slowly than did soil in the Bromus neighborhoods at either density. Differences in the rates of soil water depletion were correlated both with the 30% lower root biomass developed by Erodium, and the lower water extraction rates of Erodium relative to Bromus roots at constant root biomass. These results suggest that the annual species are not equivalent competitors for water: fibrous grass roots had greater competitive effect than did forb tap-roots. In a control container without an annual neighborhood, soil water potentials remained high for the duration of the experiment. Oak seedling emergence and growth responses were significantly affected by annual plant density. High density of annual plants suppressed oak root growth and shoot emergence. Only 20% of the acorns planted in high density Bromus neighborhoods showed aboveground shoot growth; 56% of those planted in low density Bromus or Erodium emerged. Ninety percent emerged in the control box. Relative growth rates of oak seedling roots and shoots were directly dependent on soil water potentials. Soil water was also closely correlated with oak seedling predawn water potentials and gas conductance measurements. Higher soil water potentials greater dry weights, and longer growing seasons were found for oak seedlings in the Erodium neighborhood and the container with no annuals than in Bromus neighborhoods of either density. These results suggest that competition for soil water with introduced annual species contributes to the increased rate of blue oak seedling mortality currently observed in California woodland systems.

Key words

Neighborhood competition Quercus douglasii Root morphology Soil water potential Plant water relations