, Volume 167, Issue 2, pp 247-254

Effects of nitrogen availability on competition between Bromus tectorum and Bouteloua gracilis

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Exotic plant invasions are a serious concern for land managers and conservationists. There is evidence that increased nitrogen availability favors exotic species and decreased nitrogen availability favors non-weedy native species. This study was conducted to test the effect of nitrogen availability on competition between two grass species with contrasting life histories, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum), a North American exotic, and blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis), a North American native. We investigated the effects of nitrogen availability and competition on aboveground biomass, belowground biomass, height, and % nitrogen tissue concentrations by growing the two species in the greenhouse under five levels of nitrogen and six levels of competition. Nitrogen availability affected competition between Bromus tectorum and Bouteloua gracilis. At the lowest level of N availability, neither species was affected by competition. As N availability increased, aboveground biomass gain of Bromus was more negatively affected by intraspecific competition relative to interspecific competition while the opposite occurred for Bouteloua. At the competition level at which each species gained the most aboveground biomass, Bromus had a linear response to increasing N availability while the response of Bouteloua was asymptotic. Our results do provide some support for the theory that fast growing exotic species have a rapid response to nutrient enrichment while native non-weedy species do not, and that low N levels can reduce competitive pressure from the exotic on the native.