|Comparative gas exchange and nitrogen responses of the dominant C4 grass, Andropogon gerardii, and five C3 forbs to fire and topographic position in tallgrass prairie during a wet year
|Year of Publication
|Turner, CT, Kneisler, JR, Knapp, AK
|International Journal of Plant Science
High plant species diversity in tallgrass prairie results not from a large number of grass species but, rather, from a large number of forb (nongrass, herbaceous) species. Although morphological characteristics of tallgrass prairie forbs differ strongly from those of the grasses and their patterns of abundance vary substantially with burning regime and topographic position, comparatively little is known about the ecology of persistent tallgrass prairie forbs. We measured leaf-level physiological characteristics of the dominant C4 grass, Andropogon gerardii, and five co-occurring C3 forb species in response to burning regime and topographic position to determine if there were either absolute or seasonal differences in resource utilization patterns that could contribute to the patterns of forb distribution and abundance in tallgrass prairie. In a wet year, neither fire nor topographic position affected leaf-level physiological characteristics in the grass and forbs studied, and thus responses were not consistent with extant patterns of forb abundance (greater forb abundance in unburned and upland sites). Water use efficiency in A. gerardii was 40%-170% greater and foliar N concentration was consistently lower in the grass than in the forbs, but there were no distinct or consistent differences between the grass and forbs in maximum rates of photosynthesis and stomatal conductance or xylem pressure potential. Moreover, seasonal patterns of gas exchange in forbs and the grass were not different, as might be expected when comparing C3 and C4 species. These results indicate that, when assessed at the leaf level, responses of these prairie plants to fire or topographic position during a wet year are not indicative of their success in these sites. However, seasonal water stress is a typical feature of the tallgrass prairie environment and water use patterns indicate that the prevalence of soil moisture limitations in most years may be a key factor influencing plant distribution and success in this ecosystem.