Modeling the Impact of Exotic Annual Brome Grasses on soil Organic Carbon Storage in a Northern Mixed-Grass Prairie
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- Ogle, S.M., Ojima, D. & Reiners, W.A. Biological Invasions (2004) 6: 365. doi:10.1023/B:BINV.0000034629.68660.28
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Annual brome grasses, Bromus japonicus and B. tectorum, are common invaders of northern mixed-grass prairie, and have been shown to alter the structure and function of prairie ecosystems, including plant biomass production and litter decomposition. To build on previous findings, our objective was to model the impact of annual brome grasses on soil organic carbon storage as a step towards forecasting ecological change. Specifically, we measured differences in carbon storage between patches dominated by annual bromes and perennial grasses, in addition to evaluating key plant functional characteristics that impact carbon storage. Using the CENTURY model, we simulated high- and low-brome vegetation based on differences in functional characteristics, allowing us to extrapolate the findings from the field study across a broader time scale. We sampled a prairie site in 1996 and 1997 to quantify differences between the high- and low-brome cover plots. High-brome plots averaged 40% brome cover, while the low-brome plots averaged 1% brome cover. We found differences in functional attributes for growth characteristics and litter quality, as well as minor differences in edaphic variables between the plots. Based on field measurements, more soil organic carbon was stored under high-brome vegetation than low-brome, but the differences were not statistically significant. Results from model simulations were consistent with field measurements, and suggested that this prairie ecosystem was not significantly impacted by the functional differences between high- and low-brome vegetation for the first 50 years after the brome invasion under historical management and climate. However, the model results also showed that the differences in soil organic carbon storage continue to diverge after 50 years and consequently could be significant in the future.