Muted responses to chronic experimental nitrogen deposition on the Colorado Plateau

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Anthropogenic nitrogen (N) deposition is significantly altering both community structure and ecosystem processes in terrestrial ecosystems across the globe. However, our understanding of the consequences of N deposition in dryland systems remains relatively poor, despite evidence that drylands may be particularly vulnerable to increasing N inputs. In this study, we investigated the influence of 7 years of multiple levels of simulated N deposition (0, 2, 5, and 8 kg N ha−1 year−1) on plant community structure and biological soil crust (biocrust) cover at three semi-arid grassland sites spanning a soil texture gradient. Biocrusts are a surface community of mosses, lichens, cyanobacteria, and/or algae, and have been shown to be sensitive to N inputs. We hypothesized that N additions would decrease plant diversity, increase abundance of the invasive annual grass Bromus tectorum, and decrease biocrust cover. Contrary to our expectations, we found that N additions did not affect plant diversity or B. tectorum abundance. In partial support of our hypotheses, N additions negatively affected biocrust cover in some years, perhaps driven in part by inter-annual differences in precipitation. Soil inorganic N concentrations showed rapid but ephemeral responses to N additions and plant foliar N concentrations showed no response, indicating that the magnitude of plant and biocrust responses to N fertilization may be buffered by endogenous N cycling. More work is needed to determine N critical load thresholds for plant community and biocrust dynamics in semi-arid systems and the factors that determine the fate of N inputs.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Muted responses to chronic experimental nitrogen deposition on the Colorado Plateau
Series title Oecologia
DOI 10.1007/s00442-020-04841-3
Volume 195
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Description 12 p.
First page 513
Last page 524
Country United States
State Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah
Other Geospatial Colorado Plateau
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