Annual brome grasses, Bromus japonicus and B. tectorum, are common exotic plants in the northern mixed grass prairies of North America. As annuals, the bromes die following seed set in late spring, creating a functional difference between them and native perennial grasses because perennials continue to maintain live shoots into the summer and root systems throughout the year. Our objective was to investigate how this functional difference alters ecosystem properties over the growing season, including soil moisture content, quantity of plant biomass, litter accumulation and aboveground litter decomposition. We conducted an experiment in which the annual bromes were removed from treatment plots to compare with adjacent reference plots. While this experiment served as a direct test for brome impacts, observational plots also were sampled to determine if impacts were apparent in an unmanipulated system. A litter bag experiment was conducted to evaluate impacts of brome grasses on decomposition. Experimental removal of brome grasses led to more biomass both above- and belowground at the end of the growing season, and high brome observational plots averaged 28% less aboveground biomass and 40% less belowground biomass than low brome plots. In contrast, removal of brome grasses did not produce a consistent impact on soil moisture content between sites or among months, and none of measurable impacts from the removal experiment were significant in the observational study. Bromes slowed decomposition of aboveground litter at both sites. However, the overall impact on litter accumulation was only significant at one site, where brome removal reduced surface litter in the latter half of the growing season and high brome observational plots averaged 36% more litter than low brome plots. This study demonstrates how the brome functional type alters several properties in an ecosystem traditionally dominated by perennial grasses.
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Vol. 149 • No. 1