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Multiple resource limitation of dryland soil microbial carbon cycling on the Colorado Plateau

March 1, 2022

Understanding interactions among biogeochemical cycles is increasingly important as anthropogenic alterations of global climate and of carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) cycles interactively affect the Earth system. Ecosystem processes in the dryland biome, which makes up over 40% of Earth's terrestrial surface, are often distinctively sensitive to small changes in resource availability, likely because levels of many resources are low. However, data also suggest that simultaneous changes in the availability of multiple resources may be necessary to affect a response in these low-resource systems, offering an opportunity to test patterns and controls of co-limitation, serial limitation, and individual limitation in soil environments. While drylands may play a governing role in key aspects of Earth's C cycle, and while an improved understanding of resource limitation could substantially improve our forecasts of dryland responses to change, our understanding of interacting controls on soil C cycle processes remains notably poor in these dry systems. Here, we address multiple fundamental hypotheses of resource controls over ecosystem function to test how water, C, N, and P regulate soil C cycling individually and interactively in a dryland ecosystem on the Colorado Plateau. Using a series of laboratory incubations, we found that, while water, C, and N limited C cycling through serial limitation, water alone resulted in an extremely small respiratory response from target organisms, whereas water + C resulted in a dramatic increase in soil C cycling, suggesting a degree of functional co-limitation. Nitrogen additions alone resulted in no changes to soil C cycling, but when N was added in concert with water and C, N greatly increased soil C cycling rates relative to additions of water and C without N. Phosphorus additions had no effect on the C cycle either alone or synergistically. These patterns were consistent with the stoichiometry of the system and interactions among resources were surprising in ways that inform our understanding of critical theories in ecology, such as the Transient Maxima Hypothesis, supporting the suggestion that multiple resource limitation explains pulse-dynamic C cycling in drylands better than water limitation alone.

Publication Year 2022
Title Multiple resource limitation of dryland soil microbial carbon cycling on the Colorado Plateau
DOI 10.1002/ecy.3671
Authors Ryan T. Choi, Sasha C. Reed, Colin Tucker
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology
Index ID 70232317
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Southwest Biological Science Center