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Plant and Soil

, Volume 237, Issue 1, pp 117–127 | Cite as

Below-ground carbon and nitrogen accumulation in perennial grasses: A comparison of caespitose and rhizomatous growth forms

  • J.D. DernerEmail author
  • D.D. Briske
Article

Abstract

An experiment was conducted to compare below-ground soil organic carbon and total nitrogen accumulation between caespitose and rhizomatous perennial grasses in long-term (<25 yrs) grazed and ungrazed sites in semi-arid and mesic communities in the North American Great Plains. Development of greater nutrient pools beneath than between clones occurred at minimal clone basal areas (<60 cm2) for both caespitose species. Caespitose grasses accumulated substantially greater pools of carbon (20–200 fold) and nitrogen (50–500 fold) in soils to a depth of 10 cm beneath clones than rhizomatous grasses accumulated in rhizomes in both communities. Carbon and nitrogen pools in soils beneath caespitose clones exceeded combined (soil + rhizome) pools for rhizomatous grasses for a majority of the clone basal areas (>90 cm2) in the mesic community. In contrast, both pool sizes were smaller beneath the caespitose grass at all clone basal areas than the combined pools for the rhizomatous grass in the semi-arid community. The occurrence of larger soil nutrient pools beneath the rhizomatous species in the semi-arid community was largely a consequence of niche separation for microsites characterized by soils with higher nutrient concentrations, rather than plant-induced increases in nutrient concentrations. Although nutrient islands do not occur beneath rhizomatous grasses, their distribution in the semi-arid community was restricted to microsites characterized by soils with higher SOC and N concentrations. A greater efficiency of nutrient accumulation per unit rhizome mass and the maintenance of rhizome nutrient pools of similar magnitude to those of the rhizomatous grass in the mesic community may also contribute to the distribution of rhizomatous grasses in semi-arid communities. The existence of nutrient islands beneath a wide range of clone sizes in both mesic and semi-arid communities provides circumstantial evidence to suggest that nutrient islands beneath caespitose grasses may contribute to clone fitness in this growth form.

grazing islands of fertility nutrient accumulation nutrient islands shortgrass prairie tallgrass prairie 

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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Grassland, Soil and Water Research LaboratoryUSDA-ARSTempleUSA
  2. 2.Department of Rangeland Ecology and ManagementTexas A&M UniversityCollege StationUSA

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