Soil resources regulate productivity and diversity in newly established tallgrass prairie

TitleSoil resources regulate productivity and diversity in newly established tallgrass prairie
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsBaer, SG, Blair, JM, Knapp, AK, Collins, SL
Pagination724 -735
Accession NumberKNZ00822
Keywordstallgrass prairie

In native tallgrass prairie, soil depth and nitrogen (N) availability strongly influence aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) and plant species composition. We manipulated these factors in a newly restored grassland to determine if these resources similarly constrain productivity and diversity during the initial three years of grassland establishment. Four types of experimental plots with six treatment combinations of deep and shallow soil at reduced-, ambient-, and enriched-N availability formed the basis of this study. The soil responses to the experimental treatments were examined over three years, and patterns in diversity and productivity were examined in year 3. The soil depth treatment did not significantly affect soil carbon (C) and N pools or ANPP and diversity. A pulse amendment of C added to the soil prior to planting increased soil microbial biomass and decreased potential net N mineralization rates to effectively reduce N availability throughout the study. Nitrogen availability declined over time in nonamended soils as a result of plant establishment, but adding fertilizer N alleviated the increasing immobilization potential of the soil. The level of ANPP was lowest and diversity highest in the reduced-N treatment, whereas the enriched-N treatment resulted in high productivity, but low diversity. As a result, diversity was inversely correlated with productivity in these newly established communities. The same mechanism invoked to explain decreased diversity under nutrient enrichment in old-field ecosystems and native grasslands (e.g., reduced light availability with increased production) was supported in the restored prairie by the positive relationship between ANPP and intercepted light, and a strong correlation between light availability and diversity. The effects of nutrient availability on plant community composition (diversity and richness) were due primarily to the responses of prairie species, as the productivity of early successional, nonprairie species was less than 1% of total ANPP after three years of establishment. These results show that the effects of resource availability on productivity and diversity are similar in young and mature grasslands, and that manipulation of a limiting nutrient during grassland establishment can influence floristic composition, with consequences for long-term patterns of diversity in restored ecosystems.