Effect of aboveground litter on belowground plant interactions in a native Rough Fescue grassland


Samson M. Nyanumba and James F. Jr. Cahill


Basic and Applied Ecology 13(7): 615-622; 2012


Chemical compounds from plants may exhibit stimulatory and/or inhibitory effects on surrounding organisms. However, research on belowground biochemical interactions among plants has focused more effort on elucidating negative effects. Moreover, the effect of shoot litter on belowground plant–plant interactions has remained relatively unexplored. In a field experiment with four target plant species (Artemisia frigida Willd.,Solidago missouriensis Nutt.), Bouteloua gracilis (Willd. ex Kunth) Lag. ex Griffiths andPoa pratensis L.) interacting with intact grassland neighbours, we manipulated root competition using PVC tubes and shoot litter, and belowground chemical interaction by adding activated carbon (AC) to the soil. In A. frigida, shoot litter significantly interacted with root competition and root chemicals. Plants grown plus AC were larger than those minus AC when shoot litter was left intact suggesting inhibitory effects from neighbours and/or decomposing products. However, when shoot litter was removed, plants grown minus AC were larger suggesting stimulatory effects of root exudates. B. gracilis showed a similar trend but results were non-significant. Results demonstrate that the effects of neighbours can be inhibitory or facilitative depending on the presence or absence of shoot litter and mediation through AC.