Improving grasslands: the influence of soil moisture and nitrogen fertilization on the establishment of seedlings.
In order to investigate the factors influencing the establishment of seedlings in permanent grassland, the influence of soil moisture and nitrogen fertilizers on competition between established plants of Lolium perenne and seedlings of Phleum pratense or Trifolium pratense was studied in two experiments under greenhouse conditions using the split-box technique. There was no difference in the production of plant dry matter of P. pratense or T. pratense between 30% volumetric soil water content (-0.005 MPa) and 22% (-0.04 MPa), but 15% soil moisture (-0.33 MPa) reduced plant growth. L. perenne yields were linearly reduced by reduced soil moisture content. Shoot competition from L. perenne reduced the plant dry matter yield of P. pratense and T. pratense more than did root competition in these experiments. When shoot competition was present, differences between moisture contents were not detected, indicating that light was probably the limiting resource under such conditions. No significant interaction between root competition and soil moisture was observed for plant weight. Root competition was not prevented even though sufficient water and nitrogen were supplied. This indicated either that some other growth factor was limiting or the plants competed for resources at the root hair level even though sufficient resources were supplied at the pot or field scale. Therefore, in the situation of direct sowing of species during grassland renovation, it may be difficult to alleviate competition by adequate provision of water and nitrogen.