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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Albany, California » Western Regional Research Center » Invasive Species and Pollinator Health » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #154992


item D Antonio, Carla

Submitted to: Restoration Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/1/2003
Publication Date: 3/1/2004
Citation: Corbin, J.D., D Antonio, C.M. 2004. Can sawdust addition increase competitiveness of native grasses? A case study from California. Restoration Ecology. 12(1): 36-43.

Interpretive Summary: It is widely believed that one of the factors responsible for the persistence of undesirable exotic species in some habitats is elevated soil nitrogen levels. One such habitat is that which occurs after the dieoff or removal of nitrogen fixing shrubs. We evaluated the potential use of sawdust, a source of carbon for microbes, as a restoration tool to reduce soil nitrogen and thereby influence competitive interactions among undesirable fast growing exotic species, and more desirable slower growing native species. We added sawdust to plots that had been dominated by bush lupine and were now nitrogen rich and we planted into those plots either native perennial grasses alone, weedy exotic annual grasses alone or a mix of the two. We found that sawdust reduced nitrogen mineralization rates (an index of availability) and reduced growth of all species, but that it had little effect on the otherwise large competitive suppression of native perennial grasses by exotic ones.

Technical Abstract: There is growing interest in the addition of carbon as sucrose or sawdust to the soil as a tool to reduce plant-available nitrogen (N) and alter competitive interactions among species. The hypothesis that carbon addition changes N availability and thereby changes competitive dynamics between natives and exotics was tested in a California grassland that had experienced nitrogen (N) enrichment. Sawdust (1.2 kg m-2) was added to plots containing various combinations of three native perennial bunchgrasses, exotic perennial grasses, and exotic annual grasses. Sawdust addition resulted in higher microbial biomass-N, lower rates of net N mineralization and net nitrification, and higher concentrations of extractable soil ammonium in the soil. In year 1, sawdust addition decreased competitive suppression of seedlings of two native grass species by exotic annuals, as predicted, but there was no evidence of reduced growth of exotic grasses in sawdust-amended plots. In year 2, however, sawdust addition did not affect the interactions between the native and exotic grasses. In fact, the native perennial grasses that survived the first year of competition with annual grasses significantly reduced the above-ground productivity of annual grasses even without sawdust addition. These results suggest that restoration of native biodiversity should concentrate on establishment of individuals through the first growing season, after which native perennials are better capable of surviving competition with annual species.