Muted responses to chronic experimental nitrogen deposition on the Colorado Plateau

Oecologia
By: , and 

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Abstract

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.

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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
Edition Online First
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Southwest Biological Science Center
Country United States
State Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah
Other Geospatial Colorado Plateau
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