Invasion byAegilops triuncialis(Barb Goatgrass) Slows Carbon and Nutrient Cycling in a Serpentine Grassland

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Abstract

Invasive plant species alter plant community composition and ecosystem function. In the United States, California native grasslands have been displaced almost completely by invasive annual grasses, with serpentine grasslands being one of the few remaining refugia for California grasslands. This study examined how the invasive annual grass, Aegilops triuncialis, has altered decomposition processes in a serpentine annual grassland. Our objectives were to (1) assess howA. triuncialis alters primary productivity and litter tissue chemistry, (2) determine whether A. triuncialis litter is more recalcitrant to decomposition than native litter, and (3) evaluate whether differences in the soil microbial community in A. triuncialis-invaded and native-dominated areas result in different decomposition rates of invasive and/or native plant litter. In invaded plant patches, A. triuncialis was approximately 50% of the total plant cover, in contrast to native plant patches in which A. triuncialis was not detected and native plants comprised over 90% of the total plant cover. End-of-season aboveground biomass was 2-fold higher in A. triuncialis dominated plots compared to native plots; however, there was no significant difference in belowground biomass. Both above- and below-ground plant litter from A. triuncialis plots had significantly higher lignin:N and C:N ratios and lower total N, P, and K than litter from native plant plots. Aboveground litter from native plots decomposed more rapidly than litter from A. triuncialis plots, although there was no difference in decomposition of belowground tissues. Soil microbial community composition associated with different soil patch types had no effect on decomposition rates. These data suggest that plant invasion impacts decomposition and nutrient cycling through changes in plant community tissue chemistry and biomass production.

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