Controls of nitrogen limitation in tallgrass prairie

TitleControls of nitrogen limitation in tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1991
AuthorsSeastedt, TR, Briggs, JM, Gibson, DJ
Pagination72 -79
Accession NumberKNZ00337
Keywordsfire;soil temperature;tallgrass prairie

The relationship between fire frequency and N limitation to foliage production in tallgrass prairie was studied with a series of fire and N addition experiments. Results indicated that fire history affected the magnitude of the vegetation response to fire and to N additions. Sites not burned for over 15 years averaged only a 9% increase in foliage biomass in response to N enrichment. In contrast, foliage production increased an average of 68% in response to N additions on annually burned sites, while infrequencly burned sites, burned in the year of the study, averaged a 45% increase. These findings are consistent with reports indicating that reduced plant growth on unburned prairie is due to shading and lower soil temperatures, while foliage production on frequently burned areas is constrained by N availability. Infrequent burning of unfertilized prairie therefore results in maximum production response in the year of burning relative to either annually burned or long-term unburned sites. Foliage biomass of tallgrass prairie is dominated by C4 grasses; however, forb species exhibited stronger production responses to nitrogen additions than did the grasses. After four years of annual N additions, forb biomass exceeded that of grass biomass on unburned plots, and grasses exhibited a negative response to fertilizer, probably due to competition from the forbs. The dominant C4 grasses may out-compete forbs under frequent fire conditions not only because they are better adapted to direct effects of burning, but because they can grow better under low available N regimes created by frequent fire. Key words: Andropogon gerardii, fire, nitrogen, prairie, productivity