Soil nutrients and disturbance are two of the main abiotic factors that influence plant dominance (canopy cover), density, and fecundity in early successional old field plant communities. The manner in which the dominant species in old field successional systems respond to the interaction of nutrients and disturbance is poorly known. We examined the dominance, density of flowering tillers, and reproductive output of Tridens flavus, a perennial, warm-season bunchgrass that is important in old field succession, to varying soil nutrient and disturbance regimes. We tested the hypothesis that the interaction between nutrients and disturbance would influence the performance (cover, density, fecundity) of T. flavus. To test this hypothesis, we subjected 25 m2 experimental plots to various combinations of fertilizer and mowing treatments for eight years after initially plowing the field. The performance of T. flavus was measured by estimating percent cover for 8 years (1996–2003) and both density of flowering tillers and reproductive output (panicle length and number of branches per panicle) for three years (2001–2003). The pattern of canopy cover of T. flavus over the first eight years of succession varied over time depending on mowing regime. Dominance was significantly higher in plots that were fertilized only in years one and five than in annually fertilized and unfertilized control plots. The length of panicles and density of flowering tillers were both significantly greater in annually mowed plots than in unmowed plots. In the absence of mowing in particular, T. flavus became overtopped by woody species and declined in this old field community. Therefore, disturbances such as mowing and fertilization may be important in maintaining grasses such as Tridens flavus in old fields.
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Vol. 133 • No. 3