Date of Award:

1986

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Ecology

Advisor/Chair:

Martyn M. Caldwell

Abstract

The relative competitive abilities of Agropyron desertorum and Agropyron spicatum were compared using Artemisia tridentata transplants as indicator plants. Although these two tussock grasses have similar shoot growth forms and shoot physiological characteristics, they have substantial differences in their competitive abilities. Artemisia had lower survival, growth, reproduction, and water potential when transplanted into neighborhoods of A. desertorum than in neighborhoods of A. spicatum. Plant attributes associated with the differences in competitive ability were explored. Agropyron desertorum and~ spicatum have remarkably similar potential growth rates at warm soil temperatures. In a prolonged cold soil temperature treatment in the greenhouse, A. desertorum had a 66% greater aboveground relative growth rate than A. spicatum. These differences, however, were not apparent for early spring tiller growth rates in the field. Distinct differences in timing of root growth were found between the two tussock grasses. Aqropyron desertorum exhibited greater root growth during winter and early spring and invaded disturbed soil space more rapidly than A. spicatum, especially if the disturbance occurred soon after the snow had melted. Similarly, A. desertorum proliferated its roots in zones of nutrient enrichment created early in the spring sooner than A. spicatum. No differences in root growth were found between species in zones of nutrient enrichment that were created later in the growing season. Despite differences in early spring root growth, water extraction and radiophosphorus acquisition early in the spring were similar for the two grass species. Later in the spring, A. desertorum extracted more water and radiophosphorus than A. spicatum. Differences in resource extraction between the two species in a specific soil layer occurred weeks before A. spicatum, but not A. desertorurn, had obtained maximum root length. Early root growth probably provides A. desertorum an important head start over A. spicatum in soil exploration each growing season. Differences in resource extraction, however, do not become apparent between the two species of Agropyron until plant demand exceeds soil supply rate to the roots.

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