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San Diego State University (2012)

Nitrogen relations among plant species in a semi-arid shrubland : impacts of invasion and plant-soil feedbacks

Bozzolo Francis Henry

Titre : Nitrogen relations among plant species in a semi-arid shrubland : impacts of invasion and plant-soil feedbacks

Auteur : Bozzolo Francis Henry

Université de soutenance : San Diego State University

Grade : Doctor of Philosophy PhD 2012

Competition and co-existence are strong drivers of community structure. Competition for limited resources can promote species specialization into different niches, which reduce competitive pressure and help maintain biodiversity. Interactions between plants and the microbial communities in their rooting zones create a mixture of positive and negative feedbacks that can have significant impacts on plant growth and survival. Invasion by exotic plant species, a global problem, creates additional competition for resources and can alter the composition, structure and functions of the soil microbial community. These changes can in turn alter the availability and cycling of important nutrients such as nitrogen (N) at both local and ecosystem levels. Southern California’s coastal sage scrub (CSS) vegetation is habitat for numerous rare taxa but is threatened by disturbance, development and fragmentation. The native CSS vegetation is dominated by long-lived woody shrub species. Despite CSS ecosystems often occurring on N-poor soils, these shrubs tend to grow in tight clusters with overlapping crowns and root systems, rather than being separated to reduce competition for scarce resources. Open patches between shrubs are often dominated by a dense cover of exotic annual herb species. I hypothesized that the coexistence of native shrub species was due to differentiation in N use strategies, and that the state of the soil microbial community would be an important factor influencing shrub growth. In contrast, I hypothesized that the exotic annuals, established invaders with very different life histories than the shrubs, would be generalists with rapid uptake of all forms of N. I also hypothesized that growth by exotic species would be much less dependent on the state of the soil microbial community, a factor which could help explain their invasive success. I used the same plant species for all analyses and experiments. These included three of the most common native shrubs, Artemisia californica (California sagebrush, Asteraceae), Eriogonum fasciculatum (California buckwheat, Polygonaceae), and Salvia apiana (white sage, Lamiaceae) ; and three of the most common exotics, the annuals Brassica nigra (black mustard, Brassicaceae), Bromus madritensis (red brome, Poaceae), and Centaurea melitensis (Malta star-thistle, Asteraceae). In Chapter 1 I conducted numerous analyses of N cycling processes in rhizosphere soil and plant tissue samples collected from a CSS field site. Soil analyses included measurements of the pool sizes and flux rates of different forms of N (nitrate, ammonia, organic N) in the surface soil ; ___N signatures of the soil at different depths to 30 cm ; ___N of the different forms of N in the soil ; and rhizosphere rates of potential mineralization, nitrification and protease activity. Plant tissue analyses included natural abundance ___N signatures in the leaves, direct uptake of __C-glycine by plant roots, nitrate reductase activity in leaves, and glutamine synthetase (ammonia assimilation) activity in roots. The native species showed less niche differentiation than expected, while the exotic species showed more than expected. Overall, the exotic species had significantly higher rates of N uptake and immobilization than the native species. Only one species, E. fasciculatum, showed strong evidence of positive feedbacks with soil microbial community. In Chapter 2 I grew seedlings of all six species in separate pots in a greenhouse, with a factorial combination of nitrogen and soil treatments. One third of each species vii was fertilized exclusively with ammonia, one third with nitrate, and one third with glycine, a simple amino acid. Additionally, half of each species was grown in soil that had been fully autoclaved to sterilize the soil microbial community, while the other half was grown in soil containing an inoculum of native CSS microbes. Artemisia californica had no differences in growth among the different N treatments, but had significantly reduced growth in sterilized soil. Eriogonum fasciculatum grew most when fertilized with ammonia, and had reduced growth when planted in sterilized soil. Salvia apiana had no growth differences in response to N fertilizer type or the state of the soil microbial community. The growth of B. nigra also did not differ in response to N or soil treatments


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Page publiée le 15 septembre 2012, mise à jour le 28 août 2017