Date of Award
Master of Science
The restoration of degraded tallgrass prairies can mitigate climate change due to the carbon accrued during the development of grasslands. The focal species, dominant grass Andropogon gerardii, can assist the recovery of grassland ecosystem functioning. Climate, local adaptation, and biodiversity have been found to impact the accrual of carbon in grasslands. This study examined the difference in ecosystem functioning between ecotypes along a dry to mesic precipitation scale. The study site for this project was at the Southern Illinois University Agriculture Research Center in Carbondale, Illinois. The field site was planted with seeds originating from dry to mesic ecotypes, and the resulting ecosystem functioning was analyzed. It was found that the Kansas non-local ecotypes had significantly higher biodiversity, while the local Illinois sites demonstrated local adaptation with A. gerardii. Aboveground plant biomass was higher in the local sites, but there was no difference in carbon accrual between any of the ecotypes. While ecotypic variation in a dominant species will usually differentially influence ecosystem functioning, in this case, high biodiversity and local adaptation result in similar carbon inputs in grassland soil. It is necessary to analyze the carbon content of the soil in the drier field sites in order to determine if major differences in rainfall leads to differences in carbon accrual. If the goal of restoring a tallgrass prairie in southern Illinois is to assist with climate change mitigation, then it does not make a significant difference if the dominant species is sourced locally or non-locally.
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