, Volume 328, Issue 1-2, pp 369-379
Date: 01 Aug 2009

Soil carbon and nitrogen across a chronosequence of woody plant expansion in North Dakota

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Woody plant expansion has been documented on grasslands worldwide as a result of overgrazing and fire suppression, but changes in ecosystem structure and function accompanying this phenomenon have yet to be extensively studied in the temperate semi-arid grasslands of North America. The primary objectives of this study were to determine the influence of woody plant expansion on soil carbon (C), soil nitrogen (N), and roots to a depth of 15 cm along a 42-year (1963–2005) chronosequence encompassing grassland, woodland, and transition zones in a northern Great Plains grassland. From these data, we also estimated ecosystem-level soil C and N changes associated with woody plant expansion in the top 0–15 cm of soil. We found total soil C increased across the chronosequence from grassland (5,070 ± 250 g C m−2) to woodland (6,370 ± 390 g C m−2) (P < 0.05) at 0–15 cm soil depth. Total soil N also increased from grassland to woodland (425 ± 16 to 556 ± 30 g N m−2) (P < 0.05) at 0–15 cm soil depth. Coarse particulate organic matter C and N increased from grassland to woodland (940 ± 100 to 598 ± 35 g C m−2, 70 ± 10 to 35 ± 1 g N m−2) at 0–5 cm soil depth. At the ecosystem-level, we estimate C and N accumulations at 0–15 cm soil depth are occurring at a rate of 18 and 1.7 g m−2 year-1, respectively. Results of this study suggest soil resources, namely soil C and N, in the northern Great Plains are changing following woody plant expansion.