Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University


Hatten, Jeff A.

Committee Member

Roberts, Scott D.

Committee Member

Baldwin, Brian S.

Committee Member

Shankle, Mark W.

Committee Member

Rousseau, Randall J.

Date of Degree


Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access



Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


College of Forest Resources


Department of Forestry


Belowground competition presents a threat to the production and sustainability of tree-grass ecosystems. Management scenarios designed to optimize the spatial and temporal distribution of soil resources will improve resource-use efficiency and promote greater co-production. We conducted three experiments to assess competition dynamics between loblolly pine and switchgrass. In a three-year field trial, loblolly pine and switchgrass were intercropped across varying competitive intensities. Interspecific competition decreased loblolly pine annual growth; however, establishing vegetation exclusion zones surrounding pines largely mitigated these effects. Switchgrass yields were less affected by interspecific competition compared to pines and land equivalency ratios indicated that with proper management co-production yields may exceed those of switchgrass monoculture. Switchgrass was a constant and significant competitor across all years while loblolly pine resource use was minimal in year 1 but increased in subsequent years. In a short-term greenhouse experiment, native soil was amended with biochar and inorganic N fertilizer and the effects of these amendments upon soil properties and switchgrass productivity were assessed. Biochar increased soil pH, total soil carbon, and soil moisture. However, N fertilization had negligible effects upon soil properties. Plant response to biochar was neutral to negative while N fertilization increased switchgrass foliar biomass but no interactive effects of the amendments were observed. Although the effects of biochar upon switchgrass production were trivial, its positive influence upon soil properties suggests a potential for mitigating competitive interactions. Finally, a field-scale study examined co-production of loblolly pine and switchgrass over two years in response to competition control, biochar, and N fertilizer. As expected, interspecific competition reduced soil resources and decreased plant productivity. Biochar increased total soil C and soil moisture levels but had relatively minor impacts upon other aspects of soil fertility or plant production. Nitrogen fertilization acidified soil pH and decreased total soil C and N but positively affected loblolly pine foliar N concentrations and switchgrass yields. A positive association between soil inorganic N and switchgrass yield suggests the species competitive influence may be increased with greater N supply.



Loblolly pine||Switchgrass||Competition dynamics||Bioenergy||Biochar