Invasive nonnative grasses pose a significant threat to rangelands of the Northern Great Plains. Long-term data from a grazing experiment near Mandan, ND (46°46′11.43″N, 100°54′55.16″W) revealed the invasion of native prairie by Kentucky bluegrass, an exotic grass. We hypothesized that bluegrass invasion altered soil 13C and 15N levels, tracking the increased abundance of invasive cool-season grass aboveground. In 2014, soil samples were collected to depths of 0 to 7.6 cm and 7.6 to 15.2 cm in pastures grazed similarly since 1916. Samples were analyzed for total carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) and 13C and 15N isotopes and compared against archived samples from 1991. Vegetation change from native to exotic grasses changed the isotopic composition of soil C. The soil δ13C at the 0- to 7.6-cm depth became more negative between 1991 and 2014. Soil δ13C became less negative with increasing stocking rate at both soil depths. Soil δ15N values at the 0- to 7.6-cm depth decreased between 1991 and 2014. Soil δ15N increased with increasing stocking rate at the 0- to 7.6-cm depth in 2014. Soil C and N concentrations at 0 to 7.6 cm increased by 35% (12 g C kg-1) and 27% (0.9 g N kg-1), respectively, from 1991 to 2014; however, concentrations at the 7.6- to 15.2-cm depth did not change. The shift from native C4 to invasive C3 grass did not reduce soil C storage in the long-term prairie pastures. The more deleterious effect of invasion, however, may have been the buildup of dead biomass, which alters vegetation structure and may reduce native species' diversity and abundance.
Nomenclature: Kentucky bluegrass, Poa pratensis L.