, Volume 9, Issue 7, pp 1066-1075
Date: 17 Nov 2006

Interactive Effects of Fire, Elevated Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen Deposition, and precipitation on a California Annual Grassland

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Abstract

Although it is widely accepted that elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N) deposition, and climate change will alter ecosystem productivity and function in the coming decades, the combined effects of these environmental changes may be nonadditive, and their interactions may be altered by disturbances, such as fire. We examined the influence of a summer wildfire on the interactive effects of elevated CO2, N deposition, and increased precipitation in a full-factorial experiment conducted in a California annual grassland. In unburned plots, primary production was suppressed under elevated CO2. Burning alone did not significantly affect production, but it increased total production in combination with nitrate additions and removed the suppressive effect of elevated CO2. Increased production in response to nitrate in burned plots occurred as a result of the enhanced aboveground production of annual grasses and forbs, whereas the removal of the suppressive effect of elevated CO2 occurred as a result of increased aboveground forb production in burned, CO2-treated plots and decreased root production in burned plots under ambient CO2.The tissue nitrogen–phosphorus ratio, which was assessed for annual grass shoots, decreased with burning and increased with nitrate addition. Burning removed surface litter from plots, resulting in an increase in maximum daily soil temperatures and a decrease in soil moisture both early and late in the growing season. Measures of vegetation greenness, based on canopy spectral reflectance, showed that plants in burned plots grew rapidly early in the season but senesced early. Overall, these results indicate that fire can alter the effects of elevated CO2 and N addition on productivity in the short term, possibly by promoting increased phosphorus availability.