Plant phenology and life span influence soil pool dynamics: Bromus tectorum invasion of perennial C-3-C-4 grass communities

Publication Type:

Journal Article

Source:

PLANT AND SOIL, SPRINGER, Volume 335, Number 1-2, VAN GODEWIJCKSTRAAT 30, 3311 GZ DORDRECHT, NETHERLANDS, p.255-269 (2010)

Keywords:

Dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen, Inorganic nitrogen, Microbial biomass, Pulse dynamics

Abstract:

In water-limited ecosystems, small rainfall events can have dramatic impacts on microbial activity and soil nutrient pools. Plant community phenology and life span also affect soil resources by determining the timing and quantity of plant nutrient uptake, storage, and release. Using the replacement of C-3-C-4 perennial grasses by the invasive annual grass Bromus tectorum as a case study, we investigated the influence of phenology and life span on pulse responses and sizes of soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) pools. We hypothesized that available and microbial C and N would respond to small rainfall events and that B. tectorum invasion would increase soil C and N pools by reducing inter-annual plant C and N storage and alter seasonal pool dynamics by changing the timing of plant uptake and litter inputs. We tested our hypotheses by simulating small rainfall events in B. tectorum and perennial grass communities three times during the growing season. Microbial pools responded strongly to soil moisture and simulated rainfall events, but labile C and N pools were affected weakly or not at all. All pools were larger beneath B. tectorum than perennial grasses. Soil C and N pools increased after senescence in both communities. Our results suggest that transforming a perennial into a B. tectorum dominated community increases the overall size of soil C and N pools by decreasing plant C and N storage and changes seasonal pool dynamics by altering dominant plant phenology. Our results indicate strong roles for water, life span and phenology in controlling soil C and N pools and begin to elucidate the biogeochemical effects of altering plant community phenology and life span.