Grassland carbon and nitrogen dynamics: effects of seasonal fire and clipping in a mixed-grass prairie of the southern great plains
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Plant production and soil microbial biomass (SMB) in grassland ecosystems are linked by flows of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) between the two groups of organisms. In native mixed grasslands of the southern Great Plains, these cycles are strongly influenced by climate. They may also be modulated by the timing and intensity of disturbances such as fire and clipping. We assessed the relative influence of climate and disturbance on plant community and soil C and N dynamics. Combined effects of fire and clipping were assessed in a 2x3 factorial design including spring fire and light clipping or continuous clipping. Seasonal fire effects were evaluated in a one-way analysis incorporating spring and fall fire in unclipped plots. Plant cover and biomass (by functional type), litter mass, SMB C and N, soil density fraction concentration and composition, soil organic C, total N, and inorganic N, soil temperature and moisture, soil respiration, and net N mineralization were measured at monthly intervals. C4 grasses were unaffected by fire or clipping, probably as a result of summer drought in both studyyears. Clipping reduced cover of C3 annual grasses but increased that of C3 perennials, resulting in no net change in C3 grass biomass. Fire did not affect C3 grass cover or biomass. Both fire and clipping reduced litter mass. This was reflected in seasonal declines in SMB C in fire treatments, suggesting that the primary input of microbial C in this ecosystem occurs by decomposition of current-season plant litter. Litter removal offers a single mechanism by which fire-induced increases in soil temperature and reductions in light soil density fraction concentration, soil moisture, and net N mineralization rates may be explained. Lack of treatment effects on soil respiration rates suggest that plant roots represent an important component of the plant-soil C cycle, not quantified in this research. Overall, treatment effects were relatively minor compared to seasonal climate-related changes in response variables, particularly in light of repeated summer drought.
Harris, Wylie Neal (2003). Grassland carbon and nitrogen dynamics: effects of seasonal fire and clipping in a mixed-grass prairie of the southern great plains. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A&M University. Texas A&M University. Available electronically from