Biological nitrogen fixation represents the largest natural flux of new nitrogen (N) into terrestrial ecosystems, providing a critical N source to support net primary productivity of both natural and agricultural systems. When they are common, symbiotic associations between plants and bacteria can add more than 100 kg N ha−1 y−1 to ecosystems. Yet, these associations are uncommon in many terrestrial ecosystems. In most cases, N inputs derive from more cryptic sources, including mutualistic and/or free-living microorganisms in soil, plant litter, decomposing roots and wood, lichens, insects, and mosses, among others. Unfortunately, large gaps remain in the understanding of cryptic N fixation. We conducted a literature review to explore rates, patterns, and controls of cryptic N fixation in both unmanaged and agricultural ecosystems. Our analysis indicates that, as is common with N fixation, rates are highly variable across most cryptic niches, with N inputs in any particular cryptic niche ranging from near zero to more than 20 kg ha−1 y−1. Such large variation underscores the need for more comprehensive measurements of N fixation by organisms not in symbiotic relationships with vascular plants in terrestrial ecosystems, as well as identifying the factors that govern cryptic N fixation rates. We highlight several challenges, opportunities, and priorities in this important research area, and we propose a conceptual model that posits an interacting hierarchy of biophysical and biogeochemical controls over N fixation that should generate valuable new hypotheses and research.
|Title||Exploring the role of cryptic nitrogen fixers in terrestrial ecosystems: A frontier in nitrogen cycling research|
|Authors||Cory Cleveland, Carla R. G. Reis, Steven Perakis, Katherine A Dynarski, Sarah Batterman, Timothy Crews, Maga Gei, Michael Gundale, Duncan Menge, Mark Peoples, Sasha Reed, Verity Salmon, Fiona M. Soper, Benton Taylor, Monica Turner, Nina Wurzburger|
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Record Source||USGS Publications Warehouse|
|USGS Organization||Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center; Southwest Biological Science Center|