Plant and Soil

, Volume 310, Issue 1–2, pp 201–210 | Cite as

Effect of soil nitrogen stress on the relative growth rate of annual and perennial grasses in the Intermountain West

Regular Article


A high relative growth rate (RGR) is thought to be an important trait allowing invasive annual grasses to exploit brief increases in nitrogen (N) supply following disturbance in the Intermountain West. Managing soils for low N availability has been suggested as a strategy that may reduce this growth advantage of annual grasses and facilitate establishment of desirable perennials grasses. The objective of this study was to examine the degree to which soil N availability affects RGR and RGR components of invasive annual and desirable perennial grasses. It was hypothesized that (1) invasive annual grasses would demonstrate a proportionately greater reduction in RGR than perennial grasses as soil N stress increased, and (2) the mechanism by which low N availability decreases RGR of annual and perennial grasses would depend on the severity of N stress, with moderate N stress primarily affecting leaf mass ratio (LMR) and severe N stress primarily affecting net assimilation rate (NAR). Three annual and three perennial grasses were exposed to three levels of N availability. RGR and components of RGR were quantified over four harvests. Moderate N stress reduced RGR by decreasing LMR and severe N stress lowered RGR further by decreasing NAR. However, reduction in RGR components was similar between invasive and natives, and as a consequence, annual grasses did not demonstrate a proportionately greater reduction in RGR than perennials under low N conditions. These results suggest managing soil N will do little to reduce the initial growth advantage of annual grasses. Once perennials establish, traits not captured in this short-term study, such as high tissue longevity and efficient nutrient recycling, may allow them to compete effectively with annuals under low N availability. Nevertheless, if soil N management does not facilitate the initial establishment of perennials in annual grass infested communities, then there is little likelihood that such techniques will provide a long-term benefit to restoration projects in these systems.


Annual grasses Bromus tectorum Great Basin Nutrients Taeniatherum caput-medusae 


  1. Aerts R (1999) Interspecific competition in natural plant communities: mechanisms, trade-offs and plant–soil feedbacks. J Exp Bot 50:29–37 DOI  10.1093/jexbot/50.330.29 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Atkin OK, Botman B, Lambers H (1996) The causes of inherently slow growth in alpine plants: an analysis based on the underlying carbon economies of alpine and lowland Poa species. Funct Ecol 10:698–707 DOI  10.2307/2390504 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baker HG (1974) The evolution of weeds. Ann Rev Ecolog Syst 5:1–24 DOI  10.1146/ CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berendse F, Aerts R (1987) Nitrogen-use-efficiency: a biologically meaningful definition? Funct Ecol 1:293–296Google Scholar
  5. Blumenthal DM, Jordan NR, Russelle MP (2003) Soil carbon addition controls weeds and facilitates prairie restoration. Ecol Appl 13:605–615 DOI  10.1890/1051-0761(2003)013[0605:SCACWA]2.0.CO;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooks ML (2003) Effects of increased soil nitrogen on the dominance of alien annual plants in the Mojave Desert. J Appl Ecol 40:344–353Google Scholar
  7. Burns JH (2004) A comparison of invasive and non-invasive dayflowers (Commelinaceae) across experimental nutrient and water gradients. Divers Distrib 10:387–397 DOI  10.1111/j.1366-9516.2004.00105.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Causton DR, Venus JC (1981) The biometry of plant growth. Edward Arnold, LondonGoogle Scholar
  9. Chapin FS (1980) The mineral nutrition of wild plants. Ann Rev Ecolog Syst 11:233–260 DOI  10.1146/ CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Christie EK, Moorby J (1975) Physiological responses of semiarid grasses. I. The influence of phosphorus supply on growth and phosphorus absorption. Aust J Agric Res 26(3):423–436 DOI  10.1071/AR9750423 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Coley PD (1988) Effects of plant growth rate and leaf lifetime on the amount and type of anti-herbivore defense. Oecologia 74:531–536 DOI  10.1007/BF00380050 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cui MY, Caldwell MM (1997) A large ephemeral release of nitrogen upon wetting of dry soil and corresponding root responses in the field. Plant Soil 191:291–299 DOI  10.1023/A:1004290705961 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. D’Antonio CM, Vitousek PM (1992) Biological invasions by exotic grasses, the grass/fire cycle, and global change. Ann Rev Ecolog Syst 23:63–87Google Scholar
  14. Davis MA, Grime JP, Thompson K (2000) Fluctuating resources in plant communities: a general theory of invasibility. J Ecol 88:528–534 DOI  10.1046/j.1365-2745.2000.00473.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. de Groot CC, Marcelis LFM, Boogaard Rvd, Lambers H (2001) Growth and dry-mass partitioning in tomato as affected by phosphorus nutrition and light. Plant Cell Environ 24:1309–1317 DOI  10.1046/j.0016-8025.2001.00788.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. de Groot CC, Marcelis LFM, van den Boogaard R, Lambers H (2002) Interactive effects of nitrogen and irradiance on growth and partitioning of dry mass and nitrogen in young tomato plants. Functional Plant Biology 29:1319–1328 DOI  10.1071/FP02087 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Elberse IAM, Van Damme JMM, Van Tienderen PH (2003) Plasticity of growth characteristics in wild barley (Hordeum spontaneum) in response to nutrient limitation. J Ecol 91:371–382 DOI  10.1046/j.1365-2745.2003.00776.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Elberse WT, Berendse F (1993) A comparative study of the growth and morphology of eight grass species from habitats with different nutrient availabilities. Funct Ecol 7:223–229 DOI  10.2307/2389891 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Epstein E (1972) Mineral nutrition of plants: principles and perspectives. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  20. Evans GC (1972) The quantitative analysis of plant growth. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  21. Fichtner K, Schulze ED (1992) The effect of nitrogen nutrition on growth and biomass partitioning of annual plants originating from habitats of different nitrogen availability. Oecologia 92:236–241 DOI  10.1007/BF00317370 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Forster JC (1995) Soil nitrogen. In: Alef K, Nannipieri P (eds) Methods in applied soil microbiology and biochemistry. Academic, San Diego, pp 79–87Google Scholar
  23. Fraser LH, Grime JP (1999) Interacting effects of herbivory and fertility on a synthesized plant community. J Ecol 87:514–525 DOI  10.1046/j.1365-2745.1999.00373.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Garcia-Serrano H, Escarre J, Garnier E, Sans XF (2005) A comparative growth analysis between alien invader and native Senecio species with distinct distribution ranges. Ecoscience 12:35–43 DOI  10.2980/i1195-6860-12-1-35.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Garnier E (1992) Growth analysis of congeneric annual and perennial grass species. J Ecol 80:665–675 DOI  10.2307/2260858 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Grime JP, Curtis AV (1976) The interaction of drought and mineral nutrient stress in calcareous grassland. J Ecol 64:975–988 DOI  10.2307/2258819 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Grime JP, Campbell BD, Mackey JML, Crick JC (1991) Root plasticity, nitrogen capture and competitive ability. In: Atkinson D (ed) Plant root growth: an ecological perspective. Blackwell, Oxford, pp 381–397Google Scholar
  28. Grotkopp E, Rejmanek M (2007) High seedling relative growth rate and specific leaf area are traits of invasive species: phylogenetically independent contrasts of woody angiosperms. Am J Bot 94:526–532 DOI  10.3732/ajb.94.4.526 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Grotkopp E, Rejmanek M, Rost TL (2002) Toward a causal explanation of plant invasiveness: seedling growth and life-history strategies of 29 pine (Pinus) species. Am Nat 159:396–419 DOI  10.1086/338995 CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  30. Hamilton MA, Murray BR, Cadotte MW, Hose GC, Baker AC, Harris CJ, Licari D (2005) Life-history correlates of plant invasiveness at regional and continental scales. Ecol Lett 8:1066–1074 DOI  10.1111/j.1461-0248.2005.00809.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Harris GA, Wilson AM (1970) Competition for moisture among seedlings of annual and perennial grasses as influenced by root elongation at low temperatures. Ecology 51:529–534 DOI  10.2307/1935392 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hedges LV, Gurevitch J, Curtis PS (1999) The meta-analysis of response ratios in experimental ecology. Ecology 80:1150–1156Google Scholar
  33. Hirose T, Werger MJA (1987) Nitrogen use efficiency in instantaneous and daily photosynthesis of leaves in the canopy of a Solidago altissima stand. Physiol Plant 70:215–222 DOI  10.1111/j.1399-3054.1987.tb06134.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Humphrey LD, Schupp EW (2004) Competition as a barrier to establishment of a native perennial grass (Elymus elymoides) in alien annual grass (Bromus tectorum) communities. J Arid Environ 58:405–422 DOI  10.1016/j.jaridenv.2003.11.008 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hunt R, Causton DR, Shipley B, Askew AP (2002) A modern tool for classical plant growth analysis. Ann Bot 90:485–488 DOI  10.1093/aob/mcf214 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. James JJ, Drenovsky RE (2007) A basis for relative growth rate differences between native and invasive forb seedlings. Rangeland Ecology & Management 60:395–400 DOI  10.2111/1551-5028(2007)60[395:ABFRGR]2.0.CO;2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. James JJ, Aanderud ZT, Richards JH (2006) Seasonal timing of N pulses influences N capture in a saltbush scrub community. J Arid Environ 67:688–700 DOI  10.1016/j.jaridenv.2006.03.014 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Joshi J, Vrieling K (2005) The enemy release and EICA hypothesis revisited: incorporating the fundamental difference between specialist and generalist herbivores. Ecol Lett 8:704–714. DOI  10.1111/j.1461-0248.2005.00769.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Konings H (1989) Physiological and morphological differences between pants with a high NAR or a high LAR as related to environmental conditions. In: Lambers H (ed) Causes and consequences of variation in growth rate and productivity of higher plants. SPB Academic, The Hague, pp 101–123Google Scholar
  40. Korner C, Renhardt U (1987) Dry matter partitioning and root length/leaf area ratios in herbaceous perennial plants with diverse altitudinal distribution. Oecologia 74:411–418. DOI  10.1007/BF00378938 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krueger-Mangold J, Sheley RL, Svejcar TJ (2006) Toward ecologically-based invasive plant management on rangeland. Weed Sci 54:597–605 DOI  10.1614/WS-05-049R3.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Lambers H, Poorter H (1992) Inherent variation in growth rate between higher plants: a search for physiological causes and ecological consequences. Adv Ecol Res 23:187–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Laycock WA (1991) Stable states and thresholds of range condition on North American rangelands: a viewpoint. J Range Manag 44:427–433 DOI  10.2307/4002738 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Leger EA, Forister ML (2005) Increased resistance to generalist herbivores in invasive populations of the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica). Divers Distrib 11:311–317. DOI  10.1111/j.1366-9516.2005.00165.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Leishman MR, Haslehurst T, Ares A, Baruch Z (2007) Leaf trait relationships of native and invasive plants: community- and global-scale comparisons. New Phytol 176:635–643 DOI  10.1111/j.1469-8137.2007.02189.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Meziane D, Shipley B (1999a) Interacting components of interspecific relative growth rate: constancy and change under differing conditions of light and nutrient supply. Funct Ecol 13:611–622 DOI  10.1046/j.1365-2435.1999.00359.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Meziane D, Shipley B (1999b) Interacting determinants of specific leaf area in 22 herbaceous species: effects of irradiance and nutrient availability. Plant Cell Environ 22:447–459. DOI  10.1046/j.1365-3040.1999.00423.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Miranda KM, Espey MG, Wink DA (2001) A rapid, simple spectrophotometric method for simultaneous determination of nitrate and nitrite. Nitric Oxide 5:62–71 DOI  10.1006/niox.2000.0319 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Neter J, Wasserman W, Kutner MH (1990) Applied linear statistical models: regression, analysis of variance and experimental design. Irwin, HomewoodGoogle Scholar
  50. Northam FE, Callihan RH (1994) New weedy grasses associated with downy brome. General Technical Report–Intermountain Research Station INT-313, 211–212. USDA Forest Service, OgdenGoogle Scholar
  51. Paschke MW, McLendon T, Redente EF (2000) Nitrogen availability and old-field succession in a shortgrass steppe. Ecosystems 3:144–158 DOI  10.1007/s100210000016 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Peek MS, Forseth IN (2003) Microhabitat dependent responses to resource pulses in the aridland perennial, Cryptantha flava. J Ecol 91:457–466 DOI  10.1046/j.1365-2745.2003.00778.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Poorter H (1989) Interspecific variation in relative growth rate: on ecological causes and physiological consequences. In: Lambers H (ed) Causes and consequences of variation in growth rate and productivity of higher plants. SPB Academic, The Hague, pp 45–68Google Scholar
  54. Poorter H, Nagel O (2000) The role of biomass allocation in the growth response of plants to different levels of light, CO2, nutrients and water: a quantitative review. Aust J Plant Physiol 27:595–607CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Reich PB, Walters MB, Ellsworth DS (1997) From tropics to tundra: global convergence in plant functioning. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 94:13730–13734 DOI  10.1073/pnas.94.25.13730 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Reynolds HL, D’Antonio C (1996) The ecological significance of plasticity in root weight ratio in response to nitrogen: opinion. Plant Soil 185:75–97 DOI  10.1007/BF02257566 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Robinson D, Rorison IH (1988) Plasticity in grass species in relation to nitrogen supply. Funct Ecol 2:249–257 DOI  10.2307/2389701 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Roumet C, Urcelay C, Diaz S (2006) Suites of root traits differ between annual and perennial species growing in the field. New Phytol 170:357–368 DOI  10.1111/j.1469-8137.2006.01667.x PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ryser P, Lambers H (1995) Root and leaf attributes accounting for the performance of fast-and slow-growing grasses at different nutrient supply. Plant Soil 170:251–265 DOI  10.1007/BF00010478 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. SAS (2001) SAS/STAT user’s guide. Version 8. vol. 1–3. SAS Institute, CaryGoogle Scholar
  61. Shipley B, Keddy PA (1988) The relationship between relative growth rate and sensitivity to nutrient stress in twenty-eight species of emergent macrophytes. J Ecol 76:1101–1110 DOI  10.2307/2260637 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Stohlgren TJ, Binkley D, Chong GW, Kalkhan MA, Schell LD, Bull KA, Otsuki Y, Newman G, Baskin M, Son Y (1999) Exotic species invade hot spots of native plant diversity. Ecol Monogr 69:25–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Taub DR (2002) Analysis of interspecific variation in plant growth response to nitrogen. Can J Bot 80:34–41 DOI  10.1139/b01-134 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. van der Werf A, van Nuenen M, Visser AJ, Lambers H (1993) Contribution of physiological and morphological plant traits to a species’ competitive ability at high and low nitrogen supply. Oecologia 94:434–440 DOI  10.1007/BF00317120 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Wedin D, Tilman D (1993) Competition among grasses along a nitrogen gradient—initial conditions and mechanisms of competition. Ecol Monogr 63:199–229 DOI  10.2307/2937180 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.USDA-Agricultural Research ServiceEastern Oregon Agricultural Research CenterBurnsUSA

Personalised recommendations