Land use and land cover change: the effects of woody plant encroachment and prescribed fire on biodiversity and ecosystem carbon dynamics in a southern great plains mixed grass savanna
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In the southern Great Plains, the encroachment of grassland ecosystems by mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa), is widespread, and prescribed fire is commonly used in its control. Despite this, substantial quantitative information concerning their influences on the community composition, functional dynamics, and soil organic carbon (SOC) storage potential of grassland ecosystems is lacking. The objectives of this study were to: a) quantify the effects of seasonal prescribed fire treatments and mesquite encroachment on aboveground net primary productivity (ANPP) and herbaceous community composition; b) characterize SOC pool sizes, turnover, and storage potential relative to vegetation type and fire treatment; c) evaluate the structure and diversity of soil microbial communities relative to vegetation type; and d) characterize the functional diversity of these same microbes using the GeoChip functional gene microarray. Repeated winter and summer fires led to increased ANPP rates (average, 434 and 313 g m-2 y-1, respectively), relative to unburned controls (average, 238 g m-2 y-1), altered herbaceous community composition, and increased the storage of resistant forms of SOC, but did not affect overall SOC storage. Herbaceous ANPP rates did not differ significantly as a result of mesquite encroachment, but herbaceous community composition and SOC storage did. Mesquite soils contained significantly more total, slow-turnover, and resistant forms of SOC than those that occurred beneath C3 or C4 grasses. Similarity among the soil bacterial and fungal communities associated with the major vegetation types in this system was low to moderate. Significant differences were detected among soil fungi, with the mesquite-associated fungi harboring significant differences in community structure relative to the fungal communities associated with each of the other vegetation types examined. Despite this result, few significant differences were detected with respect to the functional diversity of these communities, suggesting either a high degree of functional redundancy, or that the functional differences harbored by these communities are beyond the scope of the GeoChip. The results of this study demonstrate that both fire and mesquite encroachment have the potential to alter ecosystem components and processes significantly, providing new insight regarding the effects of these widespread land use and land cover changes on ecosystem structure and function.
SubjectWoody plant encroachment
aboveground net primary productivity
soil organic carbon
Hollister, Emily Brooke (2008). Land use and land cover change: the effects of woody plant encroachment and prescribed fire on biodiversity and ecosystem carbon dynamics in a southern great plains mixed grass savanna. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from