Document Type


Publication Title


Publication Date



Castilleja, grassland management, nutrients, Pedicularis, species richness, tallgrass prairie


Root hemiparasites infiltrate the vascular tissue of host roots to acquire water and nutrients, which often reduces host growth. Hemiparasites are postulated to be keystone species in grassland communities if they suppress dominant species and increase plant community biodiversity, and ecosystem engineers if they increase nutrient accessibility for surrounding species. We examined keystone effects by evaluating species richness and evenness in 1 m2 plots in a recent prairie restoration where Castilleja sessiliflora was naturally present or absent, and in a longer-established prairie restoration with or without Pedicularis canadensis. We examined ecosystem engineer effects by determining nitrate and phosphate concentrations under, 25 cm from, and 50 cm from hemiparasites, and in the center of hemiparasite-free plots. On the C. sessiliflora site, plots with the hemiparasites had higher species richness due to more forbs and higher floristic quality, consistent with the keystone species hypothesis. Soil phosphate levels were also greater in plots with C. sessiliflora present, consistent with the hypothesis of ecosystem engineering by this hemiparasite. In contrast, plots with/without P. canadensis showed no associations of any community metrics with the hemiparasite, and no correspondence between the presence of hemiparasites and soil nutrients. Although hemiparasites can increase grassland community heterogeneity, the effect is not universal, and the direction and strength of effects likely depends on local conditions.


This article was published in Diversity, (2024), 16(2),

This is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (