, Volume 334, Issue 1-2, pp 209-219
Date: 13 Apr 2010

Nitrogen fertilization and fire act independently on foliar stoichiometry in a temperate steppe

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Nitrogen (N) fertilization, as a grassland management strategy, has been widely used to improve forage quality and increase the productivity of grasslands degraded by overstocking. It is widely accepted that N addition will alter ecosystem structure and function, and that these effects may be altered by natural disturbances, such as fire. We examined the effects of annual burning and N fertilization (17.5 g N m−2 year−1, at a surplus rate in order to simulate agriculture treatment) on foliar chemistry and stoichiometric ratios of eight dominant species (Leymus chinensis, Stipa grandis, Cleistogenes squarrosa, Potentilla bifurca, Thalictrum squarrosum, Artemisia frigida, Kochia prostrata and Caragana microphylla) in a temperate steppe in northern China. After 3 years of treatments, annual burning significantly increased soil extractable phosphorus (P) concentration but showed no effects on soil inorganic N concentration, whereas N fertilization caused a significant increase in inorganic N concentration but not of extractable P. Species differed substantially with respect to all nutritional and stoichiometric variables. Both annual burning and N fertilization caused significant increases in foliar N and P concentrations and thus decreases in carbon (C):N and C:P ratios. While annual burning showed no effects on N:P ratios, N fertilization produced higher N:P ratios. However, species responded idiosyncratically to both fire and N fertilization in terms of foliar N concentration, C:N and N:P ratio. In addition, there was no interaction between fire and N fertilization that affected all variables. This study suggests that both annual burning and N fertilization have direct impacts on plant elemental composition and that fire- and N addition-induced changes of community composition may have important consequences for plant-mediated biogeochemical cycling pathways in temperate steppe ecosystem.

Responsible Editor: Harry Olde Venterink.
Qiang Cui and Xiao-Tao Lü contributed equally to this work.