Date of Award:

2014

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Biology

Advisor/Chair:

John M. Stark

Abstract

Cheatgrass is an invasive weed that has come to dominate large areas of the western United States. Once an ecosystem has been converted to a cheatgrass monoculture, it is extremely difficult to restore native vegetation. Cheatgrass negatively impacts wildlife and increases wildfire frequency and intensity. Understanding how cheatgrass so effectively invades western ecosystems is essential to turning the tide of invasion. One possible key to cheatgrass’ success is alteration of soil nutrient cycling. The goal of this study is to explore how nitrogen (N) may accumulate in cheatgrass soils via redistribution of N within soil N pools. To accomplish this we investigated soil N cycling in soils underneath cheatgrass and crested wheatgrass. We used a 15N isotope tracer to determine the contribution of root exudates to soil N pools. During the 1-week 15N tracer experiment, cheatgrass roots exuded more than twice as much N (0.11 mg N kg-1 soil d-1) as crested wheatgrass roots (0.05 mg N kg-1 soil d-1). We propose that exudation of high N content root exudates leads to the changes in soil N pool size and transformation rates commonly observed in soils under cheatgrass. This research uses a simple and relatively inexpensive isotope tracer to shed light on mechanisms by which invasive plants may alter soil processes. By understanding these mechanisms we may be able to develop strategies for better managing cheatgrass invasion.

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