Detritus accumulation limits productivity of tallgrass prairie

TitleDetritus accumulation limits productivity of tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1986
AuthorsKnapp, AK, Seastedt, TR
Pagination662 -668
Accession NumberKNZ00121
Keywordstallgrass prairie

A number of ecosystems in North American are maintained by fire, and other systems such as the Serengetti grasslands and taiga forest decline in productivity when fire or grazing is excluded. We believe, however, that the tallgrass prairie is unique among the North American biomes because of the strong negative impacts of plant ligtter production on subsequent ecosystem function. These deleterious effects on plant litter include: a reduction in available light energy to the system; an alteration of the microclimate and physiology of emerging shoots such that carbon dioxide uptake is reduced; a conversion of immediately usable inorganic notrogen in rainwater to less readily available organic nitrogen in microbial biomass; an inhibition of nitrogen fixation by free living microbes and blue-green algae as a result of phosphorus and/or light limitation; and a reduction in soil temperatures, which diminishes root productivity, invertebrate activities, and probably microbial activities as well. Fire and grazing therefore become necessary, integral ecosystem processes that maintain productivity of tallgrass prairie by the removal of standing and fallen litter