Competition and coexistence in grassland co-dominants: responses to neighbor removal and resource availability

TitleCompetition and coexistence in grassland co-dominants: responses to neighbor removal and resource availability
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsSilletti, AM, Knapp, AK, Blair, JM
JournalCanadian Journal of Botany
Pagination450 -460
Accession NumberKNZ00894

We examined the role of interspecific competition in the regulation of abundance and coexistence of the dominant grasses in tallgrass prairie using a removal experiment with Andropogon gerardii Vitman and Sorghastrum nutans L. Nash, two of the most abundant grasses in tallgrass prairie. Plant removal treatments (using foliar herbicide), applied to 0.3-m2 plots at the Konza Prairie Biological Station (northeast Kansas, USA), included removal of all A. gerardii, removal of all S. nutans, and no removal. To determine whether soil fertility altered the outcome, we included a fertilizer addition treatment (10 g N·m–2) fully crossed with the removal treatments. Andropogon gerardii removal resulted in significantly increased net photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, and tiller mass in S. nutans. Sorghastrum nutans removal had little effect on A. gerardii, suggesting asymmetric competition. Fertilizer significantly increased tiller mass and flowering stalk production in S. nutans, but had little effect on A. gerardii. The ability of A. gerardii to suppress the performance of S. nutans is consistent with the greater abundance of A. gerardii over much of the tallgrass prairie, while the ability of S. nutans to take advantage of increased resources may be one mechanism by which it avoids competitive exclusion. Because of the greater variability in the performance of S. nutans than in that of A. gerardii, any natural or anthropogenic alterations to this grassland that lead to shifts in dominance between these species may affect ecosystem productivity and stability.Key words: Andropogon gerardii, competition, grassland, neighbour removal, photosynthesis, Sorghastrum nutans, tallgrass prairie.