Carbon Addition as a Countermeasure Against Biological Invasion by Plants

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Increased nitrogen availability is known to favor invasion by non-native plants into natural grasslands. This suggests that decreasing nitrogen availability might serve as a countermeasure against invasion. One way to at least temporarily decrease nitrogen availability to plants is to increase microbial nitrogen uptake by adding carbon to the soil, and sawdust is a carbon source whose low cost could make it a practical conservation tool. To test whether adding sawdust to soil can counter the tendency of nitrogen enrichment to promote invasions by non-native plants, we hand-tilled 1.5 kg sawdust/m2 into the upper soil of the bare, nitrogen-rich patches left by dead shrubs of the nitrogen-fixing shrub Lupinus arboreus in two nearby areas with contrasting levels of invasion in a coastal grassland in northern California. After two years, in both areas, patches with sawdust had 40% less biomass of non-native plants than patches without sawdust, whereas biomass of native plants was not affected by sawdust addition. The more negative effect of sawdust on non-native species was specifically due to an effect on non-native grasses; adding sawdust increased the frequency of both native and non-native forbs. Results suggest that adding carbon as sawdust to soil can help counter invasion of grassland by non-native plants when invasion is being promoted by increased nitrogen availability, especially when the major invasive species are grasses.

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