Floristic and Soil Organic Matter Changes after Five and Thirty-Five Years of Native Tallgrass Prairie Restoration



We studied two tallgrass prairies and adjacent restoration areas in northeast Kansas to analyze (1) the invasion of native tallgrass prairie species from native prairie source populations into replanted areas; (2) the establishment of planted prairie species five and 35 years after being sown; and (3) the effects of native prairie species on soil organic matter. For the majority of dominant species, composition differed statistically between sampled areas even though seed rain was available from the native tallgrass prairie remnants. Plant community differences were statistically different between each native prairie area and all respective restoration sites according to the Multiple Response Permutation Procedure. In addition, species richness was greatly reduced in replanted areas compared to adjacent native prairie remnants. Soil carbon isotope ratios indicated that the planting of warm-season grasses resulted in substantial replacement of old soil organic matter by the newly replanted grasses but that it did not create substantial increases of soil organic matter beyond replacement. The lack of accumulation reflects a nutrient-poor system (nitrogen-poor in particular), and the relative absence of native or introduced nitrogen-fixing plant species on the replanted areas may be a significant factor. It appears that restoration of the original highly diverse vegetation component of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, even when aided by seeding and an adjacent prairie seed source, will occur on carbon- and nitrogen-depleted soils only over very long periods of time (perhaps centuries), if at all.