, Volume 156, Issue 3, pp 637-648
Date: 15 Mar 2008

Linking nitrogen partitioning and species abundance to invasion resistance in the Great Basin

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Resource partitioning has been suggested as an important mechanism of invasion resistance. The relative importance of resource partitioning for invasion resistance, however, may depend on how species abundance is distributed in the plant community. This study had two objectives. First, we quantified the degree to which one resource, nitrogen (N), is partitioned by time, depth and chemical form among coexisting species from different functional groups by injecting 15N into soils around the study species three times during the growing season, at two soil depths and as two chemical forms. A watering treatment also was applied to evaluate the impact of soil water content on N partitioning. Second, we examined the degree to which native functional groups contributed to invasion resistance by seeding a non-native annual grass into plots where bunchgrasses, perennial forbs or annual forbs had been removed. Bunchgrasses and forbs differed in timing, depth and chemical form of N capture, and these patterns of N partitioning were not affected by soil water content. However, when we incorporated abundance (biomass) with these relative measures of N capture to determine N sequestration by the community there was no evidence suggesting that functional groups partitioned different soil N pools. Instead, dominant bunchgrasses acquired the most N from all soil N pools. Consistent with these findings we also found that bunchgrasses were the only functional group that inhibited annual grass establishment. At natural levels of species abundance, N partitioning may facilitate coexistence but may not necessarily contribute to N sequestration and invasion resistance by the plant community. This suggests that a general mechanism of invasion resistance may not be expected across systems. Instead, the key mechanism of invasion resistance within a system may depend on trait variation among coexisting species and on how species abundance is distributed in the system.

Communicated by Tim Seastedt.