Date of Award
Master of Science
Root productivity likely has consequences for the composition, activity, and recovery of soil microbial populations and the belowground processes mediated by these organisms. In tallgrass prairie, ecotypic variation potentially exists in response to a strong precipitation gradient across the Great Plains. Thus, ecotypic variation within a species may differentially affect belowground net primary productivity (BNPP), the associated soil microbial community, and may scale up to affect ecosystem processes. The goals of this study were to elucidate: (1) whether ecotype, environment, or an ecotype by environment interaction regulate BNPP of a dominant species (Andropogon gerardii) collected from and reciprocally planted in common gardens across a precipitation gradient, and (2) whether variation in BNPP scales to affect microbial biomass and ecosystem processes. I quantified root biomass, BNPP (using root ingrowth bags), soil microbial biomass, and nutrient mineralization rates in root-ingrowth cores below six population sources of A. gerardii (2 Illinois, 2 eastern Kansas, and 2 central Kansas) established in southern Illinois, eastern Kansas, and central Kansas. An ecotype effect was found on above and belowground net primary productivity, but these findings did not translate to soil response variables. Microbial populations themselves may affect the productivity and composition of prairie species. In a second study, soil ecological knowledge (SEK) was tested by applying a native prairie soil slurry amendment to restoration plots to determine efficacy of this method as a restoration practice. The goals of this two year study were to elucidate: (1) whether a slurry amendment of prairie soil would increase above and belowground productivity and belowground ecosystem processes in a prairie restoration, and (2) to evaluate whether differences in plant diversity will scale to affect belowground productivity and ecosystem processes. I quantified aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) and species composition, as well as root biomass, belowground net primary productivity (BNPP), soil microbial biomass, and nutrient mineralization rates in root-ingrowth cores installed in treated and control plots. A treatment effect was noted on root biomass and total PLFA biomass; however, there was no treatment effect on cover, ANPP, or soil microbial processes. Though the soil microbial community did represent native prairie soil, there was poor establishment of prairie plant species. These factors may be due to the limited time available for data collection and the lack of precipitation in the second growing season. Longer studies may be necessary to fully examine the effects of soil slurry amendments as restoration tools.
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