Fire effects on the mobilization and uptake of nitrogen by cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.)
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Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.), an invasive annual grass, is displacing native species and causing increased fire frequency in the Great Basin of the southwestern United States. Growth and nitrogen uptake patterns by cheatgrass were examined in a greenhouse study using soils from sites with the same soil type but different fire histories: 1) an area that burned in 1999 that is now completely invaded with cheatgrass (CG); 2) an area that has not burned recently and is now dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentatassp.wyomingensis Beetle and Young) and Sandberg’s bluegrass (Poa secunda J. Presl) (WBS); and 3) a Wyoming big sagebrush area that burned in August of 2008 just prior to soil collection (NB). Cheatgrass seedlings had higher leaf numbers, height and mass in the NB soil. Ammonium-N mobilized by fire in the NB soil had significantly enriched 15N than soils from CG or WBS sites and this pattern was reflected in the isotopic signatures of the plants. Fire-mobilized mineral N accounted for only 58% of N taken up by cheatgrass in the NB soil, suggesting fire enhanced the ability of cheatgrass to assimilate more recalcitrant soil organic N.
KeywordsBromus tectorum Fire Nitrogen Ammonium nitrate 15N
This study was supported by the US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station.
Special thanks to Beth Leger, Erin Goergen, Raysa Roque Rivera, Zach Johnson and Carinna Robertson for their invaluable assistance with this project. Also, a special thanks to Ben Moan and Rick Doucett at the Colorado Plateau Stable Isotope Laboratory at Northern Arizona University for laboratory assistance. This manuscript benefitted from review comments by Wally Miller of the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences department at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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