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Carbon addition interacts with water availability to reduce invasive forb establishment in a semi-arid grassland

Blumenthal, D. M. 2009. Biological Invasions 11:1281-1290


Increases in nitrogen (N) availability can favor fast-growing invasive species over slow growing native species. One way to reduce N availability is to add labile carbon (C) to the soil, which can lead to microbial immobilization of plant available N. This method has been used, with widely varying degrees of success, to both study and control plant invasions. One reason that C addition might not work as expected is that N is not always the limiting resource for plant growth. For example, if plant growth is limited by water, changes in N availability might have little effect on invasion. Here I ask whether effects of C addition on N availability, resident plant biomass, and invasion depend on water availability in semi-arid mixed grass prairie. Six invasive species were seeded into plots treated with a factorial combination of water (ambient or added) and N ( C, control or N). Carbon addition reduced capture of mineral N by resin probes (by an average of 73%), and reduced biomass of resident species (from 336 g m-2 to 203 g m-2), both with and without added water. In contrast, because there was little invasion in ambient-water plots, C addition reduced invasion only in added-water plots. Given added water, C addition reduced biomass of Centaurea diffusa by 95%, and prevented invasion by Gypsophila paniculata and Linaria dalmatica. Mechanisms by which C addition reduced invasion varied by species, with added C reducing the growth of individual C. diffusa plants, but reducing numbers of G. paniculata and L. dalmatica individuals.

Key Words

Centaurea diffusa (diffuse knapweed), Gypsophila paniculata (baby's breath), Linaria dalmatica (Dalmatian toadflax), Mixed grass prairie, Nitrogen limitation, Reverse fertilization, Sugar Addition, Water, Weed invasion