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Muted responses to chronic experimental nitrogen deposition on the Colorado Plateau

January 8, 2021

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.

Publication Year 2021
Title Muted responses to chronic experimental nitrogen deposition on the Colorado Plateau
DOI 10.1007/s00442-020-04841-3
Authors Michala Lee Phillips, Daniel E. Winkler, Robin H. Reibold, Brooke Bossert Osborne, Sasha C. Reed
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Oecologia
Index ID 70217205
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center