Provenance, life span, and phylogeny do not affect grass species' responses to nitrogen and phosphorus

Ecol Appl. 2011 Sep;21(6):2129-42. doi: 10.1890/10-1911.1.


Successful conservation management requires an understanding of how species respond to intervention. Native and exotic species may respond differently to management interventions due to differences arising directly from their origin (i.e., provenance) or indirectly due to biased representations of different life history types (e.g., annual vs. perennial life span) or phylogenetic lineages among provenance (i.e., native or exotic origin) groups. Thus, selection of a successful management regime requires knowledge of the life history and provenance-bias in the local flora and an understanding of the interplay between species characteristics across existing environmental gradients in the landscape. Here we tested whether provenance, phylogeny, and life span interact to determine species distributions along natural gradients of soil chemistry (e.g., soil nitrogen and phosphorus) in 10 upland prairie sites along a 600-km latitudinal transect running from southern Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, to the Willamette Valley in Oregon, USA. We found that soil nitrate, phosphorus, and pH exerted strong control over community composition. However, species distributions along environmental gradients were unrelated to provenance, life span, or phylogenetic groupings. We then used a greenhouse experiment to more precisely measure the response of common grass species to nitrogen and phosphorus supply. As with the field data, species responses to nutrient additions did not vary as a function of provenance, life span, or phylogeny. Native and exotic species differed strongly in the relationship between greenhouse-measured tolerance of low nutrients and field abundance. Native species with the greatest ability to maintain biomass production at low nutrient supply rates were most abundant in field surveys, as predicted by resource competition theory. In contrast, there was no relationship between exotic-species biomass at low nutrient levels and field abundance. The implications of these findings for management of invasive species are substantial in that they overturn a general belief that reduction of nutrient supplies favors native species. The idiosyncratic nature of species response to nutrients in this study suggests that manipulation of nutrient supplies is unlikely to alter the overall balance between native and exotic species, although it may well be useful to control specific exotic species.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • British Columbia
  • Conservation of Energy Resources
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Ecosystem
  • Environmental Restoration and Remediation
  • Fertilizers
  • Longevity
  • Nitrogen / chemistry
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Oregon
  • Phosphorus / chemistry
  • Phosphorus / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Poaceae / drug effects
  • Poaceae / genetics*
  • Poaceae / metabolism*
  • Soil / chemistry
  • Species Specificity
  • Washington


  • Fertilizers
  • Soil
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen