Submitted to: American Geophysical Union
Publication Type: Abstract only
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/20/2009
Publication Date: 12/12/2009
Citation: Boutton, T.W., Kantola, I.B., Stott, D.E., Balthrop, S.L., Tribble, J.E., Filley, T.R. 2009. Soil Phosphatase Activity and Plant-available Phosphorus Increase Following Grassland Invasion by N-fixing Tree Legumes. Eos, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 90(52): B21B-0338. Interpretive Summary:
Technical Abstract: Grass-dominated ecosystems around the world are experiencing woody plant invasion due to human land uses. Vast regions in southern Texas have been transformed from open grasslands to subtropical thorn woodlands during the past 150 yrs. These woodlands are dominated by N-fixing tree legumes which are more productive above-and belowground, and store 2-3X more C and N than remnant grasslands. In tropical savannas and forests, it has been demonstrated that N-fixing plants are able to invest additional N in the acquisition of soil P. Accordingly, we hypothesized that soil acid phosphatase (AP) enzyme activity and concentrations of plant-available soil P (largely HPO4-2 and H2PO4-) would be greater in wooded areas dominated by N-fixing trees than in remnant grasslands where N-fixers are absent. We collected soils (0-7.5 cm) in remnant grasslands and in each of 4 different woodland types (clusters, groves, drainage woodlands, and playas) in a savanna parkland landscape in southern Texas. Plant-available soil P was determined by sorption onto anion exchange resin membranes placed in soil-water mixtures and shaken for 16 hr. P was desorbed from resin membranes using 0.5 N HCl and quantified colorimetrically using the Murphy-Riley technique. AP activity was determined using para-nitrophenyl phosphate as an analogue orthophosphate substrate, and then quantifying the p-nitrophenol (pNP) reaction product. AP activity was 250 µg pNP/g soil/hr in grasslands, and increased linearly with time following woody plant invasion to 1400 µg pNP/g soil/hr in the oldest woody plant assemblages (90 yrs). Plant available P was 3 mg P/kg soil in grasslands, and ranged from 10 to 45 mg P/kg soil in wooded areas. Within each of the wooded landscape types, plant-available P increased linearly with time following woody invasion and was correlated with soil AP activity. Results are consistent with prior studies showing that AP and plant-available P are elevated under canopies of N-fixing plants, and suggest interaction between N and P cycles that may drive increased carbon sequestration following woody invasion in this landscape. Because P is often the most limiting nutrient in ecosystems, increased availability will likely alter rates of biogeochemical processes, influence species interactions, and determine the future trajectory of woody invasion in this region.