The University of Arizona

Contrasting responses of Intermountain West grasses to soil nitrogen.

T.A. Monaco, D.A. Johnson, J.M. Norton, T.A. Jones, K.J. Connors, J.B. Norton, M.B. Redinbaugh


The mechanisms responsible for soil-N-mediated species replacement of native perennial grasses by the invasive annual grasses cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) and medusahead (Taeniatherum caput-medusae [L.] Nevski) on rangelands are not completely understood. In addition, the contributions of distinct forms of inorganic N (i.e., NH4+ and NO3-) to these shifts in species composition are currently unclear. Consequently, we conducted a greenhouse experiment to test 2 hypotheses: 1) that low N availability reduces growth (root and shoot) and N allocation of invasive annual seedlings more than native perennial species, and 2) that seedling growth and N allocation of invasive annual grasses is more responsive than native perennial grasses when supplied with NO3- relative to NH4+. We grew seedlings of 2 annual grasses and the native perennial grasses bluebunch wheatgrass (Pseudoroegneria spicata [Pursh] A. Love), and 4 populations of squirreltail (Elymus elymoides [Raf.] Swezey; E. multisetus [J.G. Smith] M.E. Jones) in separate pots and exposed them to treatments differing in N form and availability for 17 weeks. Unexpectedly, root and shoot growth of annual grasses were equal or greater than native perennial grasses under low N availability. Annual grasses took up more NO3- and allocated more growth and N to shoots than the perennial grasses (P < 0.05). Perennial grasses had significantly greater root:shoot dry mass ratios than the invasive annual grasses across treatments (P < 0.05). Invasive annual and native perennial grasses both had greater (P < 0.05) shoot and root mass and allocated more N to these structures when supplied with NO3- relative to NH4+. The ecological implications of these growth and N allocation patterns in response to N availability and form provide important clues regarding the specific traits responsible for differences in competitive ability between invasive annual and native perennial grasses on semiarid rangelands.



dry matter partitioning;Elymus multisetus;nutrient utilization;nutrient partitioning;nitrate fertilizers;soil nutrients;ammonium fertilizers;Taeniatherum caput-medusae;Elymus elymoides;Pseudoroegneria spicata;endemic species;shoots;Bromus tectorum;nitrogen;tillers;plant competition;invasive species;Utah;grasses

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