Plant winners and losers during grassland N eutrophication differ in biomass allocation and mycorrhizas

TitlePlant winners and losers during grassland N eutrophication differ in biomass allocation and mycorrhizas
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsJohnson, NC, Rowland, DL, Corkidi, L, Allen, EB
Pagination2868 -2878
Accession NumberKNZ001241

Human activities release tremendous amounts of nitrogenous compounds into the atmosphere. Wet and dry deposition distributes this airborne nitrogen (N) on otherwise pristine ecosystems. This eutrophication process significantly alters the species composition of native grasslands; generally a few nitrophilic plant species become dominant while many other species disappear. The functional equilibrium model predicts that, compared to species that decline in response to N enrichment, nitrophilic grass species should respond to N enrichment with greater biomass allocation aboveground and reduced allocation to roots and mycorrhizas. The mycorrhizal feedback hypothesis states that the composition of mycorrhizal fungal communities may influence the composition of plant communities, and it predicts that N enrichment may generate reciprocal shifts in the species composition of mycorrhizal fungi and plants. We tested these hypotheses with experiments that compared biomass allocation and mycorrhizal function of four grass ecotypes (three species), two that gained and two that lost biomass and cover in response to long-term N enrichment experiments at Cedar Creek and Konza Long-Term Ecological Research grasslands. Local grass ecotypes were grown in soil from their respective sites and inoculated with whole-soil inoculum collected from either fertilized (FERT) or unfertilized (UNFERT) plots. Our results strongly support the functional equilibrium model. In both grassland systems the nitrophilic grass species grew taller, allocated more biomass to shoots than to roots, and formed fewer mycorrhizas compared to the grass species that it replaced. Our results did not fully support the hypothesis that N-induced changes in the mycorrhizal fungal community were drivers of the plant community shifts that accompany N eutrophication. The FERT and UNFERT soil inoculum influenced the growth of the grasses differently, but this varied with site and grass ecotype in both expected and unexpected ways suggesting that ambient soil fertility or other factors may be interacting with mycorrhizal feedbacks.