Grasses and forbs compete heavily with young tree seedlings for available resources, greatly reducing tree seedling establishment success. Soil nutrient enrichment associated with agricultural intensification can increase growth of both herbaceous and woody lifeforms growing in isolation, but may change the balance of competitive advantage when growing together. The effects of nitrogen and phosphorus enrichment on pasture biomass and competition with two Australian grassy woodland trees (Eucalyptus albens and Eucalyptus microcarpa) was investigated in a field plot trial. Soil nutrients increased pasture biomass but had no measurable effect on tree growth in our experiment. Competition from pasture species, even at low levels, led to high tree seedling mortality and greatly reduced tree seedling growth compared with pasture-free plots. However, when pasture-free plots were excluded from the analysis, tree seedling leaf area was not strongly correlated with herbaceous biomass. Tree seedling establishment was severely restricted even at the lowest levels of pasture biomass. We conclude that increased soil fertility resulted in a competitive advantage to the pasture, and does not improve tree seedling establishment when grown either with or without exotic herbaceous pasture (grassy understorey) species.
Skinner, A., Lunt, I., McIntyre, S., Spooner, P., & Lavorel, S. (2010). Eucalyptus recruitment in degraded woodlands: No benefit from elevated soil fertility. Plant Ecology, 208(2), 359-370. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11258-009-9712-2