Spatial and temporal heterogeneity of available nitrogen are critical determinants of the distribution and abundance of plants and animals in ecosystems. Evidence for the resource island theory suggests that soils below tree and shrub canopies contain higher amounts of resources, including available nitrogen, than are present in interspace areas. Disturbances, such as prescribed fire and tree removal, are common management practices in shrub-woodland ecosystems, but it is not known if these practices affect resource islands. We examined temporal variation in resource islands of available nitrogen and their retention after fire and woody plant removal. From August 1997 to October 1998, soil nitrate (NO3a??) and ammonium (NH4+) were measured monthly from canopy and interspace plots within four juniper-sagebrush sites along a precipitation gradient in central Oregon, USA. At each site, soil samples were collected from untreated plots, plots in which woody plants were removed, and those treated with prescribed fire in fall 1997. In burned treatments, canopy concentrations were significantly higher than interspace concentrations throughout the measurement period. Canopy NO3a?? and NH4+ concentrations were significantly higher on burned vs. unburned treatments for four months after fire. After woody plant removal, NO3a?? and NH4+ concentrations did not differ from the controls. Untreated control areas had higher NO3a?? and NH4+ concentrations under juniper canopies for nearly all months. Wetter sites had smaller differences between canopy and interspace concentrations through time than did the two drier sites. In relation to NO3a?? and NH4+ in this ecosystem, resource islands appear to be more ephemeral in wetter sites, and more pronounced following fire disturbances than in controls or those treated by woody plant removal.
Additional publication details
Available nitrogen: a time-based study of manipulated resource islands