Woody plant encroachment by Juniperus virginiana in a mesic native grassland promotes rapid carbon and nitrogen accrual

TitleWoody plant encroachment by Juniperus virginiana in a mesic native grassland promotes rapid carbon and nitrogen accrual
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsMcKinley, DC, Blair, JM
Pagination454 -468
Accession NumberKNZ001175
Keywordscarbon storage, grassland conversion, invasion, Juniperus virginiana, land cover change, Mineralization, Nitrogen cycling, Nitrogen use efficiency, woody plant encroachment

The cover and abundance of Juniperus virginiana L. in the U.S. Central Plains are rapidly increasing, largely as a result of changing land-use practices that alter fire regimes in native grassland communities. Little is known about how conversion of native grasslands to Juniperus-dominated forests alters soil nutrient availability and ecosystem storage of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N), although such land-cover changes have important implications for local ecosystem dynamics, as well as regional C and N budgets. Four replicate native grasslands and adjacent areas of recent J. virginiana encroachment were selected to assess potential changes in soil N availability, leaf-level photosynthesis, and major ecosystem C and N pools. Net N mineralization rates were assessed in situ over two years, and changes in labile soil organic pools (potential C and N mineralization rates and microbial biomass C and N) were determined. Photosynthetic nitrogen use efficiencies (PNUE) were used to examine differences in instantaneous leaf-level N use in C uptake. Comparisons of ecosystem C and N stocks revealed significant C and N accrual in both plant biomass and soils in these newly established forests, without changes in labile soil N pools. There were few differences in monthly in situ net N mineralization rates, although cumulative annual net N mineralization was greater in forest soils compared to grasslands. Conversely, potential C mineralization was significantly reduced in forest soils. Encroachment by J. virginiana into grasslands results in rapid accretion of ecosystem C and N in plant and soil pools with little apparent change in N availability. Widespread increases in the cover of woody plants, like J. virginiana, in areas formerly dominated by graminoid species suggest an increasing role of expanding woodlands and forests as regional C sinks in the central U.S.