Plant and soil responses to high and low diversity grassland restoration practices

TitlePlant and soil responses to high and low diversity grassland restoration practices
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsBach, EM, Baer, SG, Six, J
JournalEnvironmental Management
Pagination412 -424
Accession NumberKNZ001516
KeywordsConservation reserve program, Nitrogen mineralization, Phospholipid fatty acids, Soil microbial community, tallgrass prairie

The USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) has predominantly used only a few species of dominant prairie grasses (CP2 practice) to reduce soil erosion, but recently has offered a higher diversity planting practice (CP25) to increase grassland habitat quality. We quantified plant community composition in CP25 and CP2 plantings restored for 4 or 8 years and compared belowground properties and processes among restorations and continuously cultivated soils in southeastern Nebraska, USA. Relative to cultivated soils, restoration increased soil microbial biomass (P = 0.033), specifically fungi (P < 0.001), and restored soils exhibited higher rates of carbon (C) mineralization (P = 0.010). High and low diversity plantings had equally diverse plant communities; however, CP25 plantings had greater frequency of cool-season (C3) grasses (P = 0.007). Older (8 year) high diversity restorations contained lower microbial biomass (P = 0.026), arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) biomass (P = 0.003), and C mineralization rates (P = 0.028) relative to 8 year low diversity restorations; older plantings had greater root biomass than 4 year plantings in all restorations (P = 0.001). Low diversity 8 year plantings contained wider root C:N ratios, and higher soil microbial biomass, microbial community richness, AMF biomass, and C mineralization rate relative to 4 year restorations (P < 0.050). Net N mineralization and nitrification rates were lower in 8 year than 4 year high diversity plantings (P = 0.005). We attributed changes in soil C and N pools and fluxes to increased AMF associated with C4 grasses in low diversity plantings. Thus, reduced recovery of AMF in high diversity plantings restricted restoration of belowground microbial diversity and microbially-mediated soil processes over time.