Soil C and N responses to woody plant expansion in a mesic grassland

TitleSoil C and N responses to woody plant expansion in a mesic grassland
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsMcCarron, JK, Knapp, AK, Blair, JM
JournalPlant and Soil
Pagination183 -192
Accession NumberKNZ00862
KeywordsN availability, N mineralization, shrub invasion, soil CO2 flux, soil properties

Changes in land management and reductions in fire frequency have contributed to increased cover of woody species in grasslands worldwide. These shifts in plant community composition have the potential to alter ecosystem function, particularly through changes in soil processes and properties. In semi-arid grasslands, the invasion of shrubs and trees is often accompanied by increases in soil resources and more rapid N and C cycling. We assessed the effects of shrub encroachment in a mesic grassland in Kansas (USA) on soil CO2 flux, extractable inorganic N, and N mineralization beneath shrub communities (Cornus drummondii) and surrounding undisturbed grassland sites. In this study, a shift in plant community composition from grassland to shrubland resulted in a 16% decrease in annual soil CO2 flux(4.78 kg CO2 m−2 year−1 for shrub dominated sites versus 5.84 kg CO2 m−2 year−1 for grassland sites) with no differences in total soil C or N or inorganic N. There was considerable variability in N mineralization rates within sites, which resulted in no overall difference in cumulative N mineralized during this study (4.09 g N m−2 for grassland sites and 3.03 g N m−2 for shrub islands). These results indicate that shrub encroachment into mesic grasslands does not significantly alter N availability (at least initially), but does alter C cycling by decreasing soil CO2 flux.