Degraded soil increases the performance of a dominant grass, Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem)

TitleDegraded soil increases the performance of a dominant grass, Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem)
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsScott, DA, Baer, SG
JournalPlant Ecology
Pagination901 - 911
Accession NumberKNZ001913

Dominant grasses can suppress subordinate species in grassland restorations. Examining factors that influence performance of a dominant grass when interacting with subordinate forbs may provide insights for maintaining plant community diversity. The objective of our study was to determine how soils of different restoration ages and functionally different forbs influence the performance (using biomass and tillering rate as proxies) of a dominant grass: Andropogon gerardii. Sites included a cultivated field and two restored prairies (4 or 16 years after restoration) at Konza Prairie (NE Kansas). We hypothesized A. gerardii performance would be greater in more degraded soils and when interacting with legumes. Soil structure, nutrient status, and microbial biomass were measured in soil that was used to conduct the plant interaction study. Andropogon gerardii performance was measured during an 18-week greenhouse experiment using the relative yield index calculated from net absolute tillering rate and final biomass measurements in three soil restoration age treatments combined with four interacting forb treatments. Restoration improved soil structure, reduced plant-available nutrients, and increased microbial biomass. Relative yield index values of A. gerardii were greater with non-legumes than legumes. Andropogon gerardii performed best in degraded soils, which may explain the difficulty in restoring tallgrass prairie diversity in long-term cultivated soil. Results from this study suggest practices that promote soil aggregation and fungal biomass, coupled with including a high abundance of legumes in seed mixes could reduce dominance of A. gerardii and likely increase plant diversity in tallgrass prairie restorations.