Invasive plants decrease microbial capacity to nitrify and denitrify compared to native California grassland communities

Chelsea J. Carey, Joseph C. Blankinship, Valerie T. Eviner, Carolyn M. Malmstrom, Stephen C. Hart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Exotic plant invasions are a major driver of global environmental change that can significantly alter the availability of limiting nutrients such as nitrogen (N). Beginning with European colonization of California, native grasslands were replaced almost entirely by annual exotic grasses, many of which are now so ubiquitous that they are considered part of the regional flora (“naturalized”). A new wave of invasive plants, such as Aegilops triuncialis (Barb goatgrass) and Elymus caput-medusae (Medusahead), continue to spread throughout the state today. To determine whether these new-wave invasive plants alter soil N dynamics, we measured inorganic N pools, nitrification and denitrification potentials, and possible mediating factors such as microbial biomass and soil pH in experimental grasslands comprised of A. triuncialis and E. caput-medusae. We compared these measurements with those from experimental grasslands containing: (1) native annuals and perennials and (2) naturalized exotic annuals. We found that A. triuncialis and E. caput-medusae significantly reduced ion-exchange resin estimates of nitrate (NO3 ) availability as well as nitrification and denitrification potentials compared to native communities. Active microbial biomass was also lower in invaded soils. In contrast, potential measurements of nitrification and denitrification were similar between invaded and naturalized communities. These results suggest that invasion by A. triuncialis and E. caput-medusae may significantly alter the capacity for soil microbial communities to nitrify or denitrify, and by extension alter soil N availability and rates of N transformations during invasion of remnant native-dominated sites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2941-2957
Number of pages17
JournalBiological Invasions
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Aegilops triuncialis
  • Elymus caput-medusae
  • Exotic plants
  • Plant invasion
  • Protozoa
  • Soil nitrogen availability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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