Soil processes affected by sixteen grassland species grown under different environmental conditions

Feike A. Dijkstra, Sarah E. Hobbie, Peter B. Reich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Plant species, and their interactions with the environment, determine both the quantity and chemistry of organic matter inputs to soils. Indeed, countless studies have linked the quality of organic matter inputs to litter decomposition rates. However, few studies have examined how variation in the quantity and chemistry of plant inputs, caused by either interspecific differences or changing environmental conditions, influences the dynamics of soil organic matter. We studied the effects of 16 grassland species from 4 functional groups (C3 and C4 grasses, forbs, and legumes) growing under ambient and elevated CO2 (560 ppm) and N inputs (4 g m-2 yr-1) on soil carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics after 4 yr in a grassland monoculture experiment in Minnesota, USA. Specifically, we related soil C and N dynamics to variation among species and their responses to the CO2 and N treatments in plant biomass and chemistry of roots, the dominant detrital input in the system. The 16 species caused much larger variation in plant litter inputs and chemistry, as well as soil C and N dynamics, than the CO2 and N treatment. Not surprising, variation in the quantity of plant inputs to soils contributed to up to a two-fold variation in microbial biomass and amount of respired nonlabile soil C. Root N concentration (across species and CO 2 and N treatments) was significantly negatively related to decomposition of nonlabile soil C and positively related to net N mineralization. Greater labile C inputs decreased rates of net N mineralization, likely because of greater N immobilization. Thus, of the traits examined, plant productivity, tissue N concentration, and labile C production such as from rhizodeposition were most important in causing variation in soil C and N dynamics among species and in response to altered atmospheric CO2 and N supply.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)770-777
Number of pages8
JournalSoil Science Society of America Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2006


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