Belowground bud banks as regulators of grassland dynamics

TitleBelowground bud banks as regulators of grassland dynamics
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsDalgleish, HJ
DegreePhD Dissertation
Number of Pages1 -93
UniversityKansas State University
CityManhattan, KS
Thesis TypePh.D. Thesis
Accession NumberKNZ001104
KeywordsBud bank, grassland, plant ecology, population biology

In perennial grasslands, the belowground population of meristems (the bud bank) plays a fundamental role in local plant population structure and dynamics. I tested the “meristem limitation hypothesis” prediction that bud banks increase along an increasing precipitation/productivity gradient in North American grasslands. I sampled bud populations quarterly at six sites across a 1,100 km gradient in central North America. Bud banks increased with average annual precipitation, which explained 80% of variability in bud banks among sites. Seasonal changes in grass bud banks were surprisingly similar across a 2.5-fold range in precipitation and a 4-fold range of aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP). Secondly, I tested the hypothesis that tallgrass prairie plants respond to increases in a limiting resource (nitrogen) through demographic effects on the bud bank. I parameterized matrix models for individual genets, considering each genet as a population of plant parts (buds and stems). Nitrogen addition significantly impacted bud bank demography of both Sporobolus heterolepis and Koeleria macrantha. In 2005, emergence from the bud bank and growth rates (λ) of the tiller population were significantly higher in S. heterolepis genets that received nitrogen. In contrast, nitrogen addition decreased λ in K. macrantha. Both prospective and retrospective analyses indicated that bud bank dynamics are the key demographic processes driving genet responses to nutrient availability. Lastly, I tested the hypothesis that the effects of fire and grazing on plant species composition and ANPP are mediated principally through demographic effects on bud banks. I found that plants respond to fire and grazing with altered rates of belowground bud natality, bud emergence, and both short-term (fire cycle) and long-term changes in bud density. The size of the bud bank is an excellent predictor of long-term ANPP, supporting my hypothesis that ANPP is strongly regulated by belowground demographic processes. Meristem limitation due to water or nutrient availability or management practices such as fire and grazing may constrain grassland responses to inter-annual changes in resource availability. An important consequence is that grasslands with a large bud bank may be the most responsive to future climatic change or other phenomena such as nutrient enrichment, and may be most resistant to exotic species invasions.