Grasslands of the Edwards Plateau of central Texas have been extensively altered through woody species encroachment, particularly as a result of increasing abundance of the invasive native shrub, Ashe juniper (Juniperus ashei). Over the last several decades there has been widespread mechanical removal of the species. The wood is often left in place to decompose, either mulched or not. Where the wood is left to decompose might have some bearing on its rate of decomposition. This study was conducted to determine the rates of Ashe juniper wood decomposition as a function of open vs. shaded habitat and the potential effect of wood decomposition on nutrient inputs into this system. Wood decomposition in this arid ecosystem might be expected to occur more rapidly in shaded habitat where the moisture and temperature regimes would be more favorable for wood-decomposing fungi. On the other hand, during times of low rainfall we might expect wood to decompose more rapidly when exposed to high levels of ultraviolet radiation. In our experiment, we found no difference between open and shaded treatments. Wood biomass loss occurred rapidly over the first 3–4 mo of the study and slowed for the remaining 2 yr. Wood carbon (C) increased only slightly (7.3%), but nitrogen (N) increased significantly (176%). As a consequence of changes in wood nitrogen, C∶N decreased through time. Results of this study suggest that the wood decomposition process in open and shaded habitats in this arid ecosystem during a time of low rainfall do not differ. Our findings also suggest that land managers aiming to establish native species following felling of Ashe juniper should do so in the first year when nutrient release from decomposing wood is the highest.
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Vol. 63 • No. 3