, Volume 326, Issue 1-2, pp 331-343
Date: 19 May 2009

Intraspecific and interspecific pair-wise seedling competition between exotic annual grasses and native perennials: plant–soil relationships

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Abstract

Few studies have examined plant–soil relationships in competitive arenas between exotic and native plants in the western United States. A pair-wise competitive design was used to evaluate plant–soil relationships between seedlings of the exotic annual grasses Bromus tectorum and Taeniatherium caput-medusae and the native perennial grasses Elymus elymoides and Pseudoroegneria spicata. Two soils were tested: an arid soil (argid) occupied by E. elymoides and presently invaded by B. tectorum and a high elevation, high organic matter, soil (aquept) where none of the tested species would typically occur. Plant growth proceeded for 85 days at which time above-ground biomass and tissue nutrient concentrations were quantified. Soil also was collected from the rooting zone beneath each species and analyzed for various nutrient pools. The exotic species had significantly greater above-ground biomass than the natives and grew far better in the aquept soil than the argid soil. Growth of B. tectorum, and to some degree, T. caput-medusae was suppressed in intraspecific competition and enhanced, especially in the aquept soil, when competing with the natives. Although not significant, biomass of natives strongly trended downward when competing with the exotic grasses. Overall, concentrations of tissue nutrients were minimally affected by competition, but natives tended to be more negatively affected by competition with exotics. Except for phosphorus (P), all species had significantly greater nutrient concentrations when growing in the aquept soil compared to the argid soil. In both soils, exotics had significant greater tissue concentrations of manganese (Mn), magnesium (Mg), and iron (Fe), while natives had significantly greater nitrogen (N). Species affects on soil nutrient pools occurred mostly in the aquept soil with exotic species significantly decreasing pools of available N, potentially available N, and soil-solution pools of calcium (Ca2+), potassium (K+), and magnesium (Mg2+) relative to natives. Overall, the data suggest that, in the seedling state, B. tectorum is a superior competitor. Moreover, when the natives compete intra- or interspecifically, particularly in the aquept soil, availability of N and other nutrients in their rooting zone is consistently greater than when they compete interspecifically with the exotic grasses. These data suggest the exotics are able to co-opt nutrients in the rooting zone of the natives and perhaps gain a competitive advantage.

Responsible Editor: Hans Lambers.