Is spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe L.) patch size related to the effect on soil and vegetation properties?
Spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe L. subsp. Micranthos (Gugler) Hayek) was first introduced in the 1890s from Europe into western North America, where it now occupies over three million hectares of rangeland and pasture in 14 states and two Canadian provinces, reducing forage production and causing economic damage. Despite many reported effects spotted knapweed can have on soils and native vegetation, it is not known whether patch size is correlated with these ecosystem-level effects. The objective of our study was to determine whether the effects of spotted knapweed on plant composition and soil properties was related to spotted knapweed patch size. We asked the following questions: (1) Are there differences in plant species richness and diversity between small and large knapweed patches? and (2) Do soil water and soil mineral nutrient properties change depending on knapweed patch size? Twenty-four knapweed patches, and paired natural grassland plots, were randomly selected within Lac du Bois Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada. Knapweed patch size ranged from 6 to 366 m2. Sampling and analysis revealed a significant effect of knapweed patch size on soil and vegetation properties. Soil P, soil temperature, and total dry plant biomass (g/0.25 m2) increased, while soil N, soil C, and soil moisture decreased with patch size. Since our results show that spotted knapweed patch size is related to degree of soil alteration, it is important to consider size of patch when modeling the impact of spotted knapweed in North America. Since large patches of spotted knapweed seem to have a proportionately greater effect on soil chemistry properties, large patches may move the system further away from a point where it is possible to restore the site to pre-invasion conditions.