Effects of two contrasting hemiparasitic plant species on biomass production and nitrogen availability
Demey, Andreas × Ameloot, Els Staelens, Jeroen De Schrijver, An Verstraeten, Gorik Boeckx, Pascal Hermy, Martin Verheyen, Kris #
Oecologia vol:173 issue:1 pages:293-303
Hemiparasitic plants can substantially change plant community structure; the drainage of host resources has a direct negative effect on host biomass and, as a consequence, promotes non-host biomass production (parasitism pathway); on the other hand, hemiparasitic litter inputs can enhance nutrient cycling which may have an indirect positive effect on both host and non-host biomass production (litter pathway). We evaluated the net effect of both pathways on total shoot biomass (with and without the hemiparasite) and shoot biomass of graminoids, forbs and ericaceous shrubs using a removal experiment in three sites infested with the annual Rhinanthus angustifolius, and three sites infested with the biennial Pedicularis sylvatica. We addressed the potential importance of litter effects by determination of litter quantity and quality, as well as modeling N release during decomposition. In the second year after removing the hemiparasites, total plant biomass at Rhinanthus sites was 24 % higher in weeded plots than in control plots, while weeding had no significant effect at Pedicularis sites. The increase in total biomass following Rhinanthus removal was mainly due to a higher biomass of graminoids. The amount of litter produced by Rhinanthus was only half of that produced by Pedicularis; N contents were similar. The amount of N in the litter was 9 and 30 % of the amount removed by mowing for Rhinanthus and Pedicularis sites, respectively. Within 2 months, about 45 % of the N in both hemiparasitic litter types was released by decomposition. Our results suggest that in addition to the suppression of host biomass due to parasitism, positive litter feedbacks on host and non-host biomass-via an increase in nutrient availability-also affect plant community structure. We propose that, depending on the particular hemiparasite and/or site conditions, these positive litter feedbacks on shoot biomass can compensate for the negative effect of parasitism.