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Influence of Aboveground Biomass Removal on Nitrogen Mineralization in a Restored Tallgrass Prairie


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Prescribed burning in prairies influences soil nitrogen (N), which is the primary nutrient that limits plant growth and is an important factor in plant competition and diversity. The primary objective of the experiment described here was to better understand the changes in net N mineralization that occur after a fire. We compared soil properties after a fire with those following vegetation removal by mowing and raking in a restored prairie in southeastern Minnesota. The treatments occurred in the spring of two consecutive years. Calcium oxide, burnt lime, was added to some of the raked plots in the first year to mimic the deposition of basic cations during a fire, which cause an increase in soil pH. Aboveground biomass removal by raking or by burning had similar effects on soil moisture, temperature, and inorganic N. The removal treatments caused warmer and drier soil than in the untreated plots. The change in net N mineralization after raking was unaffected by the addition of lime. In the first year, with low rainfall, removal caused net N mineralization rates similar to those in the untreated controls, but during the second year, with heavy rainfall, net N mineralization rates were significantly higher after removal. We predict that if water is sufficient, increased soil temperature after biomass removal will increase soil microbial activity and net N mineralization, but during drought, water will limit microbial activity. Furthermore, depending on soil N concentrations, which are very high at this study site, altered soil microbial activity will have variable effects on net N mineralization.