Can resource-use traits predict native vs. exotic plant success in carbon amended soils?

Authors

  • Robert J. Steers,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, and Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, California 92521 USA
    • Present address: National Park Service, San Francisco Bay Area Network, Inventory and Monitoring Program, Building 1063 Ft. Cronkhite, Sausalito, California 94965 USA. E-mail: robert_steers@nps.gov

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  • Jennifer L. Funk,

    1. School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Chapman University, Orange, California 92866 USA
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  • Edith B. Allen

    1. Department of Botany and Plant Sciences, and Center for Conservation Biology, University of California, Riverside, California 92521 USA
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Abstract

Productivity in desert ecosystems is primarily limited by water followed by nitrogen availability. In the deserts of southern California, nitrogen additions have increased invasive annual plant abundance. Similar findings from other ecosystems have led to a general acceptance that invasive plants, especially annual grasses, are nitrophilous. Consequently, reductions of soil nitrogen via carbon amendments have been conducted by many researchers in a variety of ecosystems in order to disproportionately lower invasive species abundance, but with mixed success. Recent studies suggest that resource-use traits may predict the efficacy of such resource manipulations; however, this theory remains largely untested. We report findings from a carbon amendment experiment that utilized two levels of sucrose additions that were aimed at achieving soil carbon to nitrogen ratios of 50:1 and 100:1 in labile sources. Carbon amendments were applied once each year, for three years, corresponding with the first large precipitation event of each wet season. Plant functional traits measured on the three invasive and 11 native herbaceous species that were most common at the study site showed that exotic and native species did not differ in traits associated with nitrogen use. In fact, plant abundance measures such as density, cover, and biomass showed that carbon amendments were capable of decreasing both native and invasive species. We found that early-germinating species were the most impacted by decreased soil nitrogen resulting from amendments. Because invasive annuals typically germinate earlier and exhibit a rapid phenology compared to most natives, these species are expected to be more competitive than native annuals yet more susceptible to early-season carbon amendments. However, desert annual communities can exhibit high interannual variability in species composition and abundance. Therefore, the relative abundance of native and invasive species at the time of application is critical to the success of carbon amendments at our study site. For land management purposes, carbon amendments remain relatively impractical and may only be useful at small scales or in conjunction with other invasive species removal techniques.

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