Mechanisms of influence of invasive grass litter on germination and growth of coexisting species in California.
In grasslands, litter has been recognized as an important factor promoting grass persistence and the suppression of forbs. The invasive European annual grass Bromus diandrus (ripgut brome) is widespread throughout California, where it produces a persistent and thick litter layer. The native grass, Stipa pulchra, is also common in some grassland settings and can also produce persistent litter, yet it is typically associated with more forbs. Very little is known about the mechanisms through which these two common grass species influence seedling establishment of both exotic invasive and native herbs. Here, we evaluated the effect of B. diandrus and S. pulchra litter on seedling establishment of two invasive (the grass B. diandrus and the forb Centaurea melitensis) and two native (the grass S. pulchra, and the forb Clarkia purpurea) herbaceous plants in a greenhouse setting. Our results showed that B. diandrus litter cover hindered seedling establishment of the four species tested, but that the degree and mechanism of inhibition was dependent on which species was tested, life form (e.g. monocot/dicot) and seed size. Seedling emergence of the two forb species was more vulnerable to litter cover than either grass species and both forbs had smaller seed size. After germination, only seedling biomass of B. diandrus itself was reduced by litter (both B. diandrus and S. pulchra). We found no significant effects of leachate of either grass species on seedling emergence of any species, while a high concentration of B. diandrus leachates inhibited root growth of all species including B. diandrus seedlings. Stipa pulchra litter leachates did not affect S. pulchra or C. melitensis seedlings although it did suppress B. diandrus and C. purpurea seedling growth. Our findings provide direct experimental evidence for the mechanism of effect of litter on these coexisting invasive and native species. Such evidence helps advance our understanding of role of B. diandrus and S. pulchra litter in California grassland.