Skip to main content
Log in

The Effects of Exotic Grasses on Litter Decomposition in a Hawaiian Woodland: The Importance of Indirect Effects

  • Published:
Ecosystems Aims and scope Submit manuscript

Abstract

Exotic grasses and grass-fueled fires have altered plant species composition in the seasonal submontane woodlands of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. These changes have altered both structural and functional aspects of the plant community, which could, in turn, have consequences for litter decomposition and nitrogen (N) dynamics. In grass-invaded unburned woodland, grass removal plots within the woodland, and woodland converted to grassland by fire, we compared whole-system fluxes and the contributions of individual species to annual aboveground fine litterfall and litterfall N, and litter mass and net N loss. We assessed the direct contribution of grass biomass to decomposition and N dynamics, and we determined how grasses affected decomposition processes indirectly via effects on native species and alteration of the litter layer microenvironment. Grasses contributed 35% of the total annual aboveground fine litterfall in the invaded woodland. However, total litterfall mass and N were not different between the invaded woodland and the grass removal treatment because of compensation by the native tree Metrosideros polymorpha, which increased litter production by 37% ± 5% when grasses were removed. The 0.3 g N m−2/y−1 contained in this production increase was equal to the N contained in grass litter. Litter production and litterfall N was lowest in the grassland due to the loss of native litter inputs. Decomposition of litterfall on an area basis was highest in the grass-invaded woodland. We attributed this effect to increased inherent decomposability of native litter in the presence of grasses because (a) the microenvironment of the three vegetation treatments had little effect on decomposition of common litter types and (b) M. polymorpha litter produced in the invaded woodland decomposed faster than that produced in the grass removal plots due to higher lignin concentrations in the latter than in the former. Area-weighted decomposition was lowest in the grassland due to the absence of native litter inputs. Across all treatments, most litter types immobilized N throughout the incubation, and litter net N loss on an area basis was not different among treatments. Our results support the idea that the effects of a plant species or growth form on decomposition cannot be determined in isolation from the rest of the community or from the direct effects of litter quality and quantity alone. In this dry woodland, exotic grasses significantly altered decomposition processes through indirect effects on the quantity and quality of litter produced by native species.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this article

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.

Instant access to the full article PDF.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6
Figure 7
Figure 8

Similar content being viewed by others

References

  1. LW Aarssen GA Epp (1990) ArticleTitleNeighbor manipulations in natural vegetation: a review. J Veget Sci 1 13–30

    Google Scholar 

  2. GH Aplet (1990) ArticleTitleAlteration of earthworm community biomass by the alien Myrica faya in Hawaii [USA]. Oecologia 82 414–6

    Google Scholar 

  3. F Berendse M Schmitz W de Visser (1994) ArticleTitleExperimental manipulation of succession in heathland ecosystems. Oecologia 100 38–44

    Google Scholar 

  4. B Berg (1986) ArticleTitleNutrient release from litter and humus in coniferous forest soils—a mini review. Scand J For Res 1 359–70

    Google Scholar 

  5. B Berg G Ekbohm M Johansson C McClaugherty F Utigliano AV De Santo (1996) ArticleTitleMaximum decomposition limits of forest litter types: a synthesis. Can J Bot 74 659–72

    Google Scholar 

  6. B Berg E Matzner (1997) ArticleTitleEffect of N deposition on decomposition of plant litter and soil organic matter in forest systems. Environ Rev 5 1–25

    Google Scholar 

  7. MM Caldwell TE Dawson JH Richards (1998) ArticleTitleHydraulic lift: consequences of water efflux from the roots of plants. Oecologia 113 151–61

    Google Scholar 

  8. RM Callaway LR Walker (1997) ArticleTitleCompetition and facilitation: a synthetic approach to interactions in plant communities. Ecology 78 1958–65

    Google Scholar 

  9. FS Chapin III HL Reynolds C D’Antonio V Eckhart (1996) The functional role of species in terrestrial ecosystems. B Walker (Eds) Global change in terrestrial ecosystems. Cambridge University Press Cambridge (UK) 403–28

    Google Scholar 

  10. TE Crews K Kitayama JH Fownes RH Riley DA Herbert D Mueller-Dombois PM Vitousek (1994) ArticleTitleChanges in soil phosphorus fractions and ecosystem dynamics across a long chronosequences in Hawaii. Ecology 76 1407–24

    Google Scholar 

  11. CM D’Antonio RF Hughes MC Mack D Hitchcock PM Vitousek (1998) ArticleTitleThe response of native species to removal of non-indigenous grasses in a seasonally dry hawaiian woodland. J. Veget Sci 9 699–712

    Google Scholar 

  12. CM D’Antonio RF Hughes PM Vitousek (2001) ArticleTitleFactors influencing dynamics of two invasive C4 grasses in seasonally dry Hawaiian woodlands. Ecology 82 89–104

    Google Scholar 

  13. CM D’Antonio JT Tunison RK Loh (2000) ArticleTitleVariation in the impact of exotic grasses on native plant composition in relation to fire across an elevation gradient in Hawaii. Aust Ecol 25 507–22

    Google Scholar 

  14. CM D’Antonio PM Vitousek (1992) ArticleTitleBiological invasions by exotic grasses: the grass/fire cycle and global change. Annu Rev Eco Syst 23 63–87

    Google Scholar 

  15. PW Flanagan K Van Cleve (1983) ArticleTitleNutrient cycling in relation to decomposition and organic matter quality in taiga ecosystems. Cana J For Res 13 795–817

    Google Scholar 

  16. K Fog (1988) ArticleTitleThe effect of added nitrogen on the rate of decomposition of organic matter. Biol Rev 63 433–62

    Google Scholar 

  17. JL Harper (1977) Population biology of plants. Academic Press London New York

    Google Scholar 

  18. A Hector AJ Beale A Minns SJ Otway JH Lawton (2000) ArticleTitleConsequences of the reduction of plant diversity for litter decomposition: effects through litter quality and microenvironment. Oikos 90 357–71

    Google Scholar 

  19. Heller W. 1995. Induction of polyphenol biosynthesis in plants during development and environmental stress. Colloques de l’INRA, no. 69, Polyphenols 94; 17th International Conference on Polyphenols, Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 23–27 May 1994, INRA (Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique).

  20. SE Hobbie (1992) ArticleTitleEffects of plant species on nutrient cycling. Trends Ecol Evol 7 336–9

    Google Scholar 

  21. SE Hobbie (2000) ArticleTitleInteractions between litter lignin and soil nitrogen availability during leaf litter decomposition in a Hawaiian montane forest. Ecosystems 3 484–94

    Google Scholar 

  22. SE Hobbie (1996) ArticleTitleTemperature and plant species control over litter decomposition in Alaskan tundra. Ecol Monog 66 503–22

    Google Scholar 

  23. SE Hobbie PM Vitousek (2000) ArticleTitleNutrient limitation of decomposition in Hawaiian forests. Ecology 81 1867–77

    Google Scholar 

  24. TH Holmes KJ Rice (1996) ArticleTitlePatterns of growth and soil–water utilization in some exotic annuals and native perennial bunchgrasses of California. Ann Bot 78 233–43

    Google Scholar 

  25. DU Hooper (1998) ArticleTitleThe role of complementarity and competition in ecosystem responses to variation in plant diversity. Ecology 79 704–19

    Google Scholar 

  26. F Hughes PM Vitousek (1993) ArticleTitleBarriers to shrub reestablishment following fire in the seasonal submontane zone of Hawai’i. Oecologia 93 557–63

    Google Scholar 

  27. F Hughes PM Vitousek JT Tunison (1991) ArticleTitleAlien grass invasion and fire in the seasonal submontane zone of Hawai’i. Ecology 72 743–6

    Google Scholar 

  28. K Iiyama AFA Wallis (1990) ArticleTitleDetermination of lignin in herbaceous plants by an improved acetyl bromide procedure. J Sci Food Agric 51 145–61

    Google Scholar 

  29. LC Johnson AWH Damman (1991) ArticleTitleSpecies controlled Sphagnum decay on a south Swedish raised bog. Oikos 61 234–42

    Google Scholar 

  30. CG Jones JH Lawton M Shachak (1997) ArticleTitlePositive and negative effects of organisms as physical ecosystem engineers. Ecology 78 1946–57

    Google Scholar 

  31. KT Killingbeck (1996) ArticleTitleNutrients in senesced leaves: keys to the search for potential resorption and resorption proficiency. Ecology 77 1716–27

    Google Scholar 

  32. JMH Knops D Wedin D Tilman (2001) ArticleTitleBiodiversity and decomposition in experimental grassland ecosystems. Oecologia 126 429–33

    Google Scholar 

  33. BM Lange C Lapierre H Sandermann Jr (1995) ArticleTitleElicitor-induced spruce stress lignin: structural similarity to early developmental lignins. Plant Physiol 108 1277–87

    Google Scholar 

  34. JH Lawton VK Brown (1995) Redundancy in ecosystems. E.D Schulze HA Mooney (Eds) Biodiversity and ecosystem function. Springer-Verlag New York 255–70

    Google Scholar 

  35. V Leinhos H Bergmann (1995) ArticleTitleChanges in the yield, lignin content and protein patterns of barley (Hordeum vulgare cv. Alexis) induced by drought stress. Angew Bot 69 206–10

    Google Scholar 

  36. DC Le Maitre BW Van Wilgen RA Chapman DH McKelly (1996) ArticleTitleInvasive plants and water resources in the western Cape Province, South Africa: modelling the consequences of a lack of management. J Appl Ecol 33 161–72

    Google Scholar 

  37. Mack MC, D’Antonio CM (2003) “Exotic grasses alter controls over soil nitrogen dynamics in a Hawaiian woodland.” Ecol Appl. 13: 154–166

    Google Scholar 

  38. MC Mack CM D’Antonio (1998) ArticleTitleImpacts of biological invasions on disturbance regimes. Trends Ecol Evol 13 195–8

    Google Scholar 

  39. MC Mack CM D’Antonio RE Ley (2001) ArticleTitleAlteration of ecosystem nitrogen dynamics by exotic plants: a case study of C4 grasses in Hawaii. Ecol Appl 11 1323–35

    Google Scholar 

  40. JL Maron PG Connors (1996) ArticleTitleA native nitrogen-fixing shrub facilitates weed invasion. Oecologia 105 302–12

    Google Scholar 

  41. JM Melillo JD Aber JF Muratore (1982) ArticleTitleNitrogen and lignin control of hardwood leaf litter decomposition dynamics. Ecology 63 621–6

    Google Scholar 

  42. MJ Moro FI Pugnaire P Haase J Puigdefabregas (1997) ArticleTitleEffect of the canopy of Retama sphaerocarpa on its understorey in a semiarid environment. Funct Eco 11 425–31

    Google Scholar 

  43. CF Musil GF Midgley (1990) ArticleTitleThe relative impact of invasive Australian acacias, fire and season on the soil chemical status of a sand plane lowland fynbos community. South Afri J Bot 56 417–9

    Google Scholar 

  44. AM O’Connell (1994) ArticleTitleDecomposition and nutrient content of litter in a fertilized eucalypt forest. Biol Fertil Soils 14 159–66

    Google Scholar 

  45. Parker IM, Simberloff D, Lonsdale WM, Godel K, Wonham M, Kariva PM, Williamson MH, von Holle B, Moyle PB, Byers JE, and others. 1999. Impact: effects of biological invasions on communities and ecosystems. Biol Inv

  46. WJ Parton DS Ojima DS Schimel (1994) ArticleTitleEnvironmental change in grasslands—assessment using models. Clim Change 28 111–41

    Google Scholar 

  47. J Pastor MA Stillwell D Tilman (1987) ArticleTitleLittle bluestem litter dynamics in Minnesota old fields. Oecologia 72 327–30

    Google Scholar 

  48. ME Power D Tilman JA Estes BA Menge WJ Bond LS Mills G Daily JC Castilla J Lubchenco RT Paine (1996) ArticleTitleChallenges in the quest for keystones: identifying keystone species is difficult—but essential to understanding how loss of species will affect ecosystems. BioScience 46 609–20

    Google Scholar 

  49. CE Prescott (1995) ArticleTitleDoes nitrogen availability control rates of litter decomposition in forests? Plant Soil 168–9 83–8

    Google Scholar 

  50. FI Pugnaire P Haase J Puigdefabregas (1996) ArticleTitleFacilitation between higher plant species in a semiarid environment. Ecology 77 1420–6

    Google Scholar 

  51. CW Smith (1985) Impact of alien plants on Hawaii’s native biota. CP Stone JM Scott (Eds) Hawaii’s terrestrial ecosystems: preservation and management. Cooperative National Park Service Management Unit, University of Hawaii Honolulu 180–250

    Google Scholar 

  52. CW Smith JT Tunison (1992) Fire and alien plants in Hawaii: research and management implications for native ecosystems. CP Stone JT Tunison DA Stone (Eds) Alien plant invasions in native ecosystems of Hawai’i: management and research. University of Hawai’i Press Honolulu 394–408

    Google Scholar 

  53. WD Stock KT Wienand AC Baker (1995) ArticleTitleImpacts of invading N2 fixing Acacia species on patterns of nutrient cycling in two Cape ecosystems: evidence from soil incubation studies and 15N natural abundance values. Oecologia 101 375–82

    Google Scholar 

  54. TJ Stohlgren (1988) ArticleTitleLitter dynamics in two Sierran mixed conifer forests. II. Nutrient release in decomposing leaf litter. Can J For Res 18 1136–44

    Google Scholar 

  55. BR Taylor D Parkinson WFJ Parsons (1989) ArticleTitleNitrogen and lignin as predictors of litter decay rates: a microcosm test. Ecology 70 97–104

    Google Scholar 

  56. D Tilman (1990) Mechanisms of plant competition for nutrients the elements of a predictive theory of competition. JB Grace D Tilman (Eds) Perspectives on plant competition. Academic Press San Diego (CA) 117–42

    Google Scholar 

  57. ED Vance FS Chapin (2001) ArticleTitleSubstrate limitations to microbial activity in taiga forest floors. Soil Biol Biochem 33 173–88

    Google Scholar 

  58. PM Vitousek (1986) Biological invasions and ecosystem properties: can species make a difference? HA Mooney J Drake (Eds) Biological invasions of North America and Hawaii. Springer-Verlag New York 163–76

    Google Scholar 

  59. PM Vitousek RW Howarth (1991) ArticleTitleNitrogen limitation on land and in the sea: how can it occur? Biogeochemistry 13 87–115

    Google Scholar 

  60. PM Vitousek LR Walker (1989) ArticleTitleBiological invasion by Myrica faya in Hawai’i: plant demography, nitrogen fixation, ecosystem effects. Ecol Monog 59 247–65

    Google Scholar 

  61. PM Vitousek LR Walker LD Whiteaker D Mueller-Dombois PA Matson (1987) ArticleTitleBiological invasion by Myrica faya alters ecosystem development in Hawaii. Science 238 802–4

    Google Scholar 

  62. WL Wagner DR Herbst SH Sohmer (1990) Manual of the flowering plants of Hawai’i. University of Hawaii Press Honolulu

    Google Scholar 

  63. LR Walker SD Smith (1997) Impacts of invasive plants on community and ecosystem properties. JO Luken J Thieret (Eds) Assessment and management of plant invasions. Springer-Verlag New York 69–86

    Google Scholar 

  64. DA Wardle GM Barker KI Bonner KS Nicholson (1998) ArticleTitleCan comparative approaches based on plant ecophysiological traits predict the nature of biotic interactions and individual plant species effects in ecosystems? J Ecol 86 405–20

    Google Scholar 

  65. DA Wardle KI Bonner GM Barker GW Yeates KS Nicholson RD Bardgett RN Watson A Ghani (1999) ArticleTitlePlant removals in perennial grassland: vegetation dynamics, decomposers, soil biodiversity, and ecosystem properties. Ecol Monog 69 535–68

    Google Scholar 

  66. DA Wardle KS Nicholson M Ahmed A Rahman (1994) ArticleTitleInterference effects of the invasive plant Carduus nutans L. against the nitrogen fixation ability of Trifolium repens L. Plant Soil 163 287–97

    Google Scholar 

  67. ETF Witkowski (1991) ArticleTitleEffects of invasive alien acacias on nutrient cycling in the coastal lowlands of the Cape fynbos. J Appl Ecol 28 1–15

    Google Scholar 

  68. Wolf EW, Morris J. 1996. Geological map of the island of Hawaii. Menlo Park (CA): Geological Survey.

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank F. S. Chapin III, Karen Haubensak, Pamela Matson, Edward Schuur, and Wayne Sousa for comments that greatly improved earlier drafts of this manuscript. We also thank Peter Vitousek for providing lab facilities and logistical support, and David Foote, Charles Stone, and Tim Tunison of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for providing logistical support and site access. Invaluable lab assistance was contributed by King Chaung, Sarah Hobbie, Karen Schlappa, and Xinghua Zeng. Financial support was provided by a NASA global change fellowship and National Science Foundation (NSF) Dissertation Improvement Grant to M.C.M. and NSF BSR 9119618 to C.M.D.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michelle C. Mack.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mack, M., D’Antonio, C. The Effects of Exotic Grasses on Litter Decomposition in a Hawaiian Woodland: The Importance of Indirect Effects . Ecosystems 6, 723–738 (2003). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-003-0119-y

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-003-0119-y

Keywords

Navigation