Golf Course Management

APR 2014

Golf Course Management magazine is dedicated to advancing the golf course superintendent profession and helping GCSAA members achieve career success.

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32 GOLF COURSE MANAGEMENT 04.14 Nowadays it seems we are bombarded with messages about the need to maintain ecosys - tem services and function — that we need to maintain biodiversity because it's good for the ecosystem being studied. In fact, these mes - sages are so ubiquitous that they may seem more like buzz words used to grab attention or sell a product. But what does it mean to maintain ecosystem services and function? Are they actually being measured? If so, what is the measurement? One of the benefts of turfgrass that we often tout is its ability to signifcantly reduce soil ero - sion — that is, perform an ecosystem service. But what types of data support that? Certainly there are measurements of soil loss from plots through runoff, but that's just the result of ero - sion that has already occurred. Erosion is re- ally a function of soil aggregation — that is, how well the soil particles stick together. The greater the aggregate strength, the less soil ero - sion we tend to see. Data show that some spe- cies encourage stronger aggregates than others, but does increasing biodiversity really improve this ecosystem service? That's exactly what the authors of a recent study, "Mechanisms linking plant community properties to soil aggregate stability in an experimental grassland plant di - versity gradient," set out to show. Plots were planted with a random combi - nation of one, four or 16 species. The plant species used were categorized into one of four plant functional groups including grasses, small herbs, tall herbs and legumes. Soil sam - ples were taken that could be analyzed for aggregate stability using a number of wetting methods including fast wetting, slow wetting, and wetting with shaking to simulate the me - chanical wear induced by water drop impact. Earthworm biomass, root biomass, soil organic carbon and soil microbial biomass were con - sidered in the analysis, but the primary factor of interest was plant species richness. By and large, the factors affecting soil ag - gregate stability were consistent across all mea- sures of stability. The results showed that the presence of grasses in the mixtures led to a de - crease in soil erosion by signifcantly increasing soil aggregate stability. Although the specifc effect of diversity within the grass species was not evaluated, it can be generalized from the data that increased diversity of any type is good in some way. The effect of grass on aggregate stability was primarily attributed to an increase in root biomass and was said to be likely related to root exudates, which act like glue between soil particles and infuence soil microbial pop - ulations. The fndings in this study lend further cre - dence to the claim that establishing grasses can reduce soil erosion, but they also hint at some lack of specifc scientifc knowledge of the ef - fect of turf sward species richness and com- petition on ecosystem service provision. Such knowledge has great value for superintendents managing both naturalized and highly main - tained areas. Recently we've seen a lot of em- phasis placed on establishment of fescues for both types of areas, but the concepts apply to a wide range of species mixtures. Maybe the greatest value of this type of information is to remind us that maintaining turf from an eco - logical perspective can reduce some higher-in- put practices. That is, if we aim to address the big issues facing our industry, we need to be inspired to think in a big way. That includes keeping open minds and looking for answers in unlikely places, not just in turfgrass re - search. By examining current research in felds like ecology, soil microbial dynamics and alter - native species use, we can identify superior and innovative management practices for the turf - grass industry. The information in this column was taken from "Mechanisms linking plant community properties to soil aggregate stability in an ex - perimental grassland plant diversity gradient" by G. Pérès, D. Cluzeau, S. Menasseri, J.F. Soussana, H. Bessler, C. Engels, M. Habe - kost, G. Gleixner, A. Weigelt, W.W. Weisser, S. Scheu, and N. Eisenhauer. 2013. Plant Soil 373 (1-2): 285–299 ( http://link.springer.com/ article/10.1007%2Fs11104-013-1791-0 .) Joshua Friell is a doctoral dissertation fellow at the Univer- sity of Minnesota-St. Paul. The more, the merrier One of the benefts of turfgrass that we often tout is its ability to signifcantly reduce soil erosion — that is, perform an ecosystem service. The presence of grasses in plant mixtures has been shown to decrease soil erosion by signifcantly increasing soil aggregate stability. Photo by Matt Ceplo Presented in Partnership with Barenbrug (turf) Joshua Friell frie0250@umn.edu 032-033_April14_Turf.indd 32 3/18/14 2:44 PM

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