Date of Award

12-1-2015

Degree Name

Master of Science

Department

Plant Biology

First Advisor

Baer, Sara

Abstract

The tallgrass prairie has been severely reduced in size, making restoration important to maintain communities and functions of this ecosystem. A chronosequence approach was used to determine recovery of physical and biological soil properties. The recovery models of soil properties provided information to explain the variation in total C stock of the whole soil. Recovery models also provided information to design a competition experiment based on variation in whole soil conditions with land use history. The filter framework hypothesis is a useful concept for examining tallgrass prairie restoration; the theory states only a subset of species in the region will be able to establish in a specific location due to abiotic and biotic filters. With this theory in mind, I explored the influence of whole soil conditions as affected by land use history (cultivation/restoration) and how these conditions altered plant-plant competition dynamics of a dominant grass was studied. Belowground plant biomass recovers with cessation of tillage and restoration back to prairie, providing an organic matter source for microbial populations to recover and soil macroaggregates to form. This has potential to increase C sequestration in soils and decrease nitrous oxide efflux from soils. Intact 5.5 cm dia cores were collected to a depth of 10 cm in each field to determine physical and biological soil properties. Belowground plant, microbial community, and soil structure properties were modeled to recover coinciding with an increase in total C stock of the whole soil. Structural equation modeling revealed that soil structure physically protecting organic matter explained the most variation in soil carbon sequestration with restoration. Most of the total C was contained within the macroaggregate size fraction; within this fraction most of that C is within the microaggregates within macroaggregates fraction. Soil structure is critical for recovery of soil carbon stocks and the microaggregate within macroaggregate fraction is the best diagnostic of sequestered C. ANCOVA results indicate that while the slopes of nitrous oxide efflux rates did not differ, cumulative efflux differed, though this was not related to time since restoration. Dominant grasses, such as Andropogon gerardii, can exclude subordinate species from grassland restorations. Thus, understanding changes in competition dynamics of dominant grasses could help maintain richness in grassland restorations. There may be changes in competition dynamics with whole soil conditions affected by land use history (cultivation/restoration) as plant available nutrients will decrease, microbial populations will increase, and soil structure will improve with restoration from cultivation to prairie. Using 4 soil treatments of varying land use history with four species treatments, to determine if effects are general or species specific, pairwise substitution competition experiments were conducted. Relative A. gerardii response to competition was compared among soil and species treatments using competition intensity and competition importance indices utilizing final plant biomass, relative growth rate based on maximum height, and net absolute tiller appearance rate. The experiment was conducted over 18 weeks, allowing A. gerardii to flower. A significant intensity result and significant importance results utilizing biomass measurements indicated that the 16 year restored prairie soil cause A. gerardii to be a relatively better competitor against forbs than in all other soils except for cultivated soil, likely due to positive plant-soil feedbacks. Significant importance results utilizing tiller appearance rate indicated that the cultivated and 3 year restored prairie soil caused A. gerardii to be a relatively better competitor than in the 16 year restored and never cultivated native prairie soils, likely due to changes in whole soil conditions related to land use history. There were only general soil effects, as soil treatments did not interact with species treatments. A. gerardii was a relatively better competitor against non-leguminous forbs, indicating that legumes are a better competitor for a limiting nutrient than A. gerardii or that this species is not in direct competition with legumes.

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