The University of Arizona

Effects of nitrogen availability on the growth of native grasses exotic weeds.

P.N. Lowe, W.K. Lauenroth, I.C. Burke


Many studies have shown that high nitrogen availability encourages the community dominance of exotic, weedy species. Other researchers have attempted to reduce existing exotic species infestations by reducing soil nitrogen availability. We tested the hypothesis that exotic weeds and native species differ in their response to nitrogen availability, predicting that the exotics would have a much more positive response than the natives at high nitrogen levels but that natives would better tolerate low nitrogen levels. To test this hypothesis, we conducted a greenhouse experiment investigating the aboveground biomass, belowground biomass, height, and aboveground tissue nitrogen concentration response of 2 North American native plant species, blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis H.B.K. Lag.) and western wheatgrass (Pascopyrum smithii (Rybd.) A. Love), and 4 exotic species, cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.), leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula L.), Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense L.), and Russian knapweed (Centaurea repens L.), to 5 levels of nitrogen availability, 0 g N/m2, 1 g N/m2, 4 g N/m2, 7g N/m2, and 10 g N/m2. We grew single individuals of each species from seed in 3 liter pots in the greenhouse for 75 days. The exotics and natives did differ in their response to nitrogen availability, but not in the predicted manner. The exotics did not have a more positive response to nitrogen availability than the native species, and the species with the poorest response was an exotic. There were no differences between the exotic and native species at any level of nitrogen availability in root:shoot ratios, total biomass, or percent leaf tissue nitrogen, but the native species as a group gained more height than the exotics at every level of nitrogen availability. Our data do not show a generalizable relationship between exotic or native plant groups and growth response to nitrogen.



poisonous weeds;roots;competitive ability;crop-weed competition;Euphorbia esula;nutrient availability;Acroptilon repens;Cirsium arvense;ratios;shoots;soil fertility;Bromus tectorum;species differences;Pascopyrum smithii;Bouteloua gracilis;growth rate;biomass production;nitrogen content;introduced species;Colorado

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