Original Paper

Plant Ecology

, Volume 191, Issue 2, pp 199-207

First online:

Responses to fertility and disturbance in a low-diversity grassland

  • Fidji GendronAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Regina
  • , Scott D. WilsonAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, University of Regina Email author 

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We examined variation in species composition in a low-diversity, anthropogenic grassland in response to 11 years of nitrogen (N) manipulation and disturbance. The species-poor grassland (2–3 species/0.5 m2) represents a wide spread vegetation type (>10 million ha in North America) dominated by the introduced perennial grasses Bromus inermis and Agropyron cristatum. Four levels of N and three of soil disturbance were applied in all combinations to plots (5 × 15 m, N = 120) in a completely randomized design each year. Seeds or transplants of 47 species were added to ensure that dispersal was not a barrier to changes in species composition. After 11 years of treatment, all but the most disturbed plots continued to be dominated by B. inermis. The cover of the second-most abundant species, A. cristatum, decreased with disturbance but did not vary significantly with N. Despite the lack of changes in the identity of the dominant species, our environmental manipulations strongly influenced ecosystem characteristics. Added N increased soil available N, and decreased the cover of bare ground and light availability. Soil disturbance decreased aboveground biomass, and increased the cover of bare ground and light availability. Sawdust application, designed to decrease N availability, significantly reduced community biomass, and increased light availability and the cover of bare ground, but did not alter nutrient availability or species composition. The results highlight the difficulty of restoring diversity in species-poor, anthropogenic communities dominated by introduced species, and thus the importance of conserving remnants of diverse natural grasslands.


Agropyron cristatum Bromus inermis Dominance Fertility Introduced species Persistence Restoration Tilling