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Managing soil nitrogen to restore annual grass-infested plant communities: effective strategy or incomplete framework
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Theoretical and empirical work has established a positive relationship between resource availability and habitat invasibility. For nonnative invasive annual grasses, similar to other invasive species, invader success has been tied most often to increased nitrogen (N) availability. These observations have led to the logical assumption that managing soils for low N availability will facilitate restoration of invasive plant-dominated systems. Although invasive annual grasses pose a serious threat to a number of perennial-dominated ecosystems worldwide, there has been no quantitative synthesis evaluating the degree to which soil N management may facilitate restoration efforts. We used meta-analysis to evaluate the degree to which soil N management impacts growth and competitive ability of annual and perennial grass seedlings. We then link our analysis to current theories of plant ecological strategies and community assembly to improve our ability to understand how soil N management may be used to restore annual grass-dominated communities. Across studies, annual grasses maintained higher growth rates and greater biomass and tiller production than perennials under low and high N availability. We found no evidence that lowering N availability fundamentally alters competitive interactions between annual and perennial grass seedlings. Competitive effects of annual neighbors on perennial targets were similar under low and high N availability. Moreover, in most cases perennials grown under competition in high-N soils produced more biomass than perennials grown under competition in low-N soils. While these findings counter current restoration and soil N management assumptions, these results are consistent with current plant ecological strategy and community assembly theory. Based on our results and these theories we argue that, in restoration scenarios in which the native plant community is being reassembled from seed, soil N management will have no direct positive effect on native plant establishment unless invasive plant propagule pools and priority effects are controlled the first growing season.
Ecological applications: a publication of the Ecological Society of America 2011 Mar., v. 21 no. 2
Journal Articles, USDA Authors, Peer-Reviewed
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