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Soil characteristics of Rocky Mountain National Park grasslands invaded by Melilotus officinalis and M. alba

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Abstract Aim 

Invasion of nitrogen-fixing non-native plant species may alter soil resources and impact native plant communities. Altered soils may be the driving mechanism that provides a suitable environment to facilitate future invasions and decrease native biodiversity. We hypothesized that Melilotus invasion would increase nitrogen availability and produce soil microclimate and biochemical changes, which could in turn alter plant species composition in a montane grassland community. Location 

Our research addressed the effects of white and yellow sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis and M. alba) invasion on soil characteristics and nitrogen processes in the montane grasslands in Rocky Mountain National Park. Methods 

We sampled soil in replicate sites of Melilotus-invaded and control (non-invaded) patches within disturbed areas in montane grassland habitats. Soil composites were analysed for available nitrogen, net nitrogen mineralization, moisture, carbon/nitrogen (C : N ratio), texture, organic matter and pH. Data were recorded at three sample dates during the growing seasons of 1998 and 1999. Results 

Contrary to our expectations, we observed lower nitrogen availability and mineralization in invaded patches, and differences in soil moisture content and soil C : N. Soil C : N ratios were higher in invaded plots, in spite of the fact that Melilotus had the lowest C : N ratios of other plant tissue analysed in this study. Main conclusions 

These findings provide land managers of natural areas with a better perspective on the possibilities of nitrogen-fixing species impact on soil nutrient levels.

Keywords: Biological invasion; Melilotus alba; Melilotus officinalis; soil biogeochemistry; soil nitrogen

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography, University of Colorado 2: Department of Environmental, Population and Organismic Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA

Publication date: 2004-03-01

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