A mechanistic study of plant and microbial controls over R* for nitrogen in an annual grassland

Stephanie G. Yelenik, Benjamin P. Colman, Jonathan M. Levine, Janneke HilleRisLambers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Differences in species' abilities to capture resources can drive competitive hierarchies, successional dynamics, community diversity, and invasions. To investigate mechanisms of resource competition within a nitrogen (N) limited California grassland community, we established a manipulative experiment using an R* framework. R* theory holds that better competitors within a N limited community should better depress available N in monoculture plots and obtain higher abundance in mixture plots. We asked whether (1) plant uptake or (2) plant species influences on microbial dynamics were the primary drivers of available soil N levels in this system where N structures plant communities. To disentangle the relative roles of plant uptake and microbially-mediated processes in resource competition, we quantified soil N dynamics as well as N pools in plant and microbial biomass in monoculture plots of 11 native or exotic annual grassland plants over one growing season. We found a negative correlation between plant N content and soil dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN, our measure of R*), suggesting that plant uptake drives R*. In contrast, we found no relationship between microbial biomass N or potential net N mineralization and DIN. We conclude that while plant-microbial interactions may have altered the overall quantity of N that plants take up, the relationship between species' abundance and available N in monoculture was largely driven by plant N uptake in this first year of growth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere106059
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 29 2014


FundersFunder number
David and Lucile Packard Foundation


    Dive into the research topics of 'A mechanistic study of plant and microbial controls over R* for nitrogen in an annual grassland'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this