Annual grass invasion into shrub-dominated ecosystems is associated with changes in nutrient cycling that may alter nitrogen (N) limitation and retention. Carbon (C) applications that reduce plant-available N have been suggested to give native perennial vegetation a competitive advantage over exotic annual grasses, but plant community and N retention responses to C addition remain poorly understood in these ecosystems. The main objectives of this study were to (1) evaluate the degree of N limitation of plant biomass in intact versus B. tectorum-invaded sagebrush communities, (2) determine if plant N limitation patterns are reflected in the strength of tracer 15N retention over two growing seasons, and (3) assess if the strength of plant N limitation predicts the efficacy of carbon additions intended to reduce soil N availability and plant growth. Labile C additions reduced biomass of exotic annual species; however, growth of native A. tridentata shrubs also declined. Exotic annual and native perennial plant communities had divergent responses to added N, with B. tectorum displaying greater ability to use added N to rapidly increase aboveground biomass, and native perennials increasing their tissue N concentration but showing little growth response. Few differences in N pools between the annual and native communities were detected. In contrast to expectations, however, more 15N was retained over two growing seasons in the invaded annual grass than in the native shrub community. Our data suggest that N cycling in converted exotic annual grasslands of the northern Intermountain West, USA, may retain N more strongly than previously thought.