Grassland community composition drives small-scale spatial patterns in soil properties and processes

Sophie S. Parker, Eric W. Seabloom, Joshua P. Schimel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The presence and activity of individual plants can affect soil resource availability and microbial processes, and can influence the spatial scale over which soil properties vary. While soils have been found to differ under plants of differing growth form (i.e. grasses vs. trees), few studies have focused on small-scale soil differences under comparably-sized species. Here we investigate how two types of C-3 grasses influence patterns in soil properties and processes at scales of less than one meter in a California grassland. To understand how native perennial grasses differ from invasive annual grasses in their effects on soils, we used cross-semivariogram analysis to quantify the degree and scale of spatial heterogeneity in soil properties and processes in experimentally-seeded grasslands. We then used mapping techniques to correlate spatial patterns of soil properties and processes with the cover of annual and perennial grasses aboveground. We found that many soil properties and processes belowground were spatially-correlated with the aboveground presence of annuals or perennials. Soil moisture became more heterogeneous with increasing amounts of perennial cover, suggesting that perennial bunchgrass individuals take up more water and produce zones of resource depletion in comparison with soils directly under annual grasses. The association of belowground resources and activity with the two types of grass suggests that the historical shift from perennial to annual dominance in California grasslands led to changes in the small-scale spatial structure of soil properties and processes in these systems. These changes may alter ecosystem function and could potentially perpetuate invasive annual grass dominance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)269-279
Number of pages11
StatePublished - Jan 15 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank Jonathan Levine and Oliver Chadwick for comments on early versions of the manuscript, and O.J. Reichman for excellent collaboration throughout the project. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB 9806377, DEB 0235624, EF 0525666), Andrew W. Mellon Foundation , the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis , a Center funded by NSF (DEB-0072909), the University of California Santa Barbara , and the University of California Reserve System .


  • Heterogeneity
  • Nitrogen
  • Organic matter
  • Spatial structure
  • Species pattern


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