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The Influence of Soil Inoculum and Nitrogen Availability on Restoration of High-Elevation Steppe Communities Invaded by Bromus tectorum

Authors

  • Helen I. Rowe,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Purdue University, 915 W. State Street, West Lafayette, IN 47907-2054, U.S.A.
      H. I. Rowe, email ivy@purdue.edu
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  • Cynthia S. Brown,

    1. Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management, Colorado State University, 1177 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1177, U.S.A.
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  • Mark W. Paschke

    1. Forest, Rangeland, and Watershed Stewardship Department, Colorado State University, Campus Delivery 1472, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1472, U.S.A.
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H. I. Rowe, email ivy@purdue.edu

Abstract

Cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum L.) is an exotic annual grass that has invaded approximately 40,000,000 ha of rangelands in the United States, including montane ecosystems that are important habitats for wildlife and livestock. In addition to well-understood mechanisms by which Cheatgrass gains competitive advantage, recent studies have shown that Cheatgrass may also change the associated soil microbial community to impact native perennial plants and promote the persistence of Cheatgrass. Furthermore, reducing plant-available N represents a tool for initiating conditions that accelerate successional change from annual- to perennial-dominated communities. At a montane, mixed shrub–grassland Cheatgrass-dominated site in Colorado, we applied sucrose to reduce available N, and we added soil from a native plant community in order to reestablish the microbial community. This approach tested the idea that intact native soil microbial communities may enhance the beneficial effect of reducing soil N availability in a restoration setting. By the end of the experiment, reduced N availability decreased Cheatgrass by 9.8%, non-native annual/biennial plant cover by 15.0%, and increased relative perennial plant cover by 13.4%; soil inoculation reduced Cheatgrass by 7.6% and increased perennial abundance by 11.3%. Soil inoculum additions and reduced N availability both contributed toward restoring a perennial-dominated community and demonstrates that addition of native soil inoculum may be a useful tool for restoration efforts.

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