, Volume 101, Issue 3, pp 361–365 | Cite as

Ammonia volatilization during drought in perennial C4 grasses of tallgrass prairie

  • Scott A. Heckathorn
  • Evan H. DeLucia
Original Paper


We measured foliar NH3 volatilization as part of our study of the decrease (up to 40%) in shoot N concentration during drought in three perennial C4 grasses of tallgrass prairie. Volatilization of recently expanded leaves was quantified using cuvettes and acid traps for Spartina pectinata, Andropogon gerardii, and Schizachyrium scoparium, a mesic, intermediate, and xeric species, respectively. In general, volatilization decreased during drought, approaching zero as stomates closed, and increased with plant N status and drought tolerance. Prior to drought, NH3 volatilization was greater in xeric than mesic species (179 and 131 vs. 115 ng m-2 s-1 for individual leaves of S. scoparium and A. gerardii vs. Sp. pectinata). During a 2–3 week drought, whole-shoot volatile N losses can exceed 5% of total plant N in these species, accounting for 2–10% of the decrease in shoot percent N (again, xeric > mesic). Drought-induced N retranslocation of shoot N to roots and rhizomes is responsible for c. 63% of the decrease in percent N in Sp. pectinata, 28% in A. gerardii, and 8% in S. scoparium. The remainder of the decrease in percent N is attributable to growth dilution of existing shoot N, accounting for 34, 65, and 87% of the decrease in shoot percent N during drought in Sp. pectinata, A. gerardii, and S. scoparium, respectively. Thus, the relative importance of volatilization, retranslocation, and dilution in decreasing foliar percent N during drought in prairie grasses is species dependent and related to drought tolerance.

Key words

Ammonia volatilization Drought Nitrogen Prairie grasses Retranslocation 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Borchert JR (1950) The climate of the central North American grassland. Ann Assoc Am Geog 40:1–39Google Scholar
  2. Hayes DC (1986) Seasonal root biomass and nitrogen dynamics of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii Vitman) under wet and dry conditions. Ph.D. dissertation. Kansas State University, ManhattanGoogle Scholar
  3. Heckathorn SA, DeLucia EH (1991) Effect of leaf rolling on gas exchange and leaf temperature of Andropogon gerardii and Spartina pectinata. Bot Gaz 152:263–268Google Scholar
  4. Heckathorn SA (1994) Retranslocation and volatilization of shoot nitrogen during drought in perennial prairie grasses. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Illinois, UrbanaGoogle Scholar
  5. Heckathorn SA, DeLucia EH (1994) Drought-induced nitrogen retranslocation in perennial C4 grasses of tallgrass prairie. Ecology 75:1877–1886Google Scholar
  6. Hobbs NT, Schimel DS, Owensby CE, Ojima DS (1991) Fire and grazing in the tallgrass prairie: contingent effects on nitrogen budgets. Ecology 72:1374–1382Google Scholar
  7. Hooker ML, Sander DH, Peterson GA, Daigger LA (1980) Gaseous N losses from winter wheat. Agron J 72:789–792Google Scholar
  8. Langford AO, Fehsenfeld FC, Zachariassen J, Schimel DS (1992) Gaseous ammonia fluxes and background concentrations in terrestrial ecosystems of the United States. Global Biogeochem Cycles 6:459–483Google Scholar
  9. Farquhar GD, Firth PM, Wetselaar R, Weir B (1980) On the gaseous exchange of ammonia between leaves and the environment: determination of the ammonia compensation point. Plant Physiol 66:710–714Google Scholar
  10. McNaughton SJ, Coughenour MB, Wallace LL (1982) Interactive processes in grassland ecosystems. In: Estes JR, Tyrl RJ, Brunken JN (eds) Grasses and grasslands: systematics and ecology. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, pp 167–193Google Scholar
  11. Morgan JA, Parton WJ (1989) Characteristics of ammonia volatilization from spring wheat. Crop Sci 29:726–731Google Scholar
  12. Parton WJ, Morgan JA, Altenhofen JM, Harper LA (1988) Ammonia volatilization from spring wheat plants. Agron J 80:419–425Google Scholar
  13. Rabe E (1990) Stress physiology: the functional significance of the accumulation of nitrogen-containing compounds. J Hort Sci 65:231–243Google Scholar
  14. San Jose JJ, Montes R, Nikonova-Crespo N (1991) Carbon dioxide and ammonia exchange in the Trachypogon savannas of the Orinoco Llanos. Ann Bot 68:321–328Google Scholar
  15. Seastedt TR, Briggs JM, Gibson DJ (1991) Controls of nitrogen limitations in tallgrass prairie. Oecologia 87:72–79Google Scholar
  16. Schimel DS, Parton WJ, Adamsen FJ, Woodmansee RG, Senft RL, Stillwell MA (1986) The role of cattle in the volatile loss of nitrogen from a shortgrass steppe. Biogeochemistry 2:39–52Google Scholar
  17. Schimel DS, Kittel TGF, Knapp AK, Seastedt TR, Parton WJ, Brown VB (1991) Physiological interactions along resource gradients in a tallgrass prairie. Ecology 72:672–684Google Scholar
  18. Schjöerring JK (1991) Ammonia emission from the foliage of growing plants. In: Sharkey TD, Holland EA, Mooney HA (eds) Trace gas emissions by plants. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 267–292Google Scholar
  19. Schjöerring JK, Kyllingsback A, Mortensen JV, Byskov-Nielsen S (1993a) Field investigations of ammonia exchange between barley plants and the atmosphere. I. concentration profiles and flux densities of ammonia. Plant Cell Environ 16:161–167Google Scholar
  20. Schjöerring JK, Kyllingsbaek A, Mortensen JV, Byskov-Nielsen S (1993b) Field investigations of ammonia exchange between barley plants and the atmosphere. II. Nitrogen reallocation, free ammonium content and activities of ammonium-assimilating enzymes in different leaves. Plant Cell Environ 16:169–178Google Scholar
  21. Schlesinger WH, Hartley AE (1992) A global budget for atmospheric NH3. Biogeochemistry 15:191–211Google Scholar
  22. Stutte CA, Weiland RT (1978) Gaseous nitrogen loss and transpiration of several crop and weed species. Crop Sci 18:887–889Google Scholar
  23. Weaver JE, Fitzpatrick TJ (1932) Ecology and relative importance of the dominants of tall-grass prarie. Bot Gaz 93:113–150Google Scholar
  24. Weiland RT, Stutte CA (1979) Pyro-chemiluminescent differentiation of oxidized and reduced N forms evolved from plant foliage. Crop Sci 19:545–547Google Scholar
  25. Weiland RT, Stutte CA (1980) Concomitant determination of foliar nitrogen loss, net carbon dioxide uptake, and transpiration. Plant Physiol 65:403–406Google Scholar
  26. Weiland RT, Stutte CA (1985) Oxygen influence on foliar nitrogen loss from soyabean and sorghum plants. Ann Bot 55:279–282Google Scholar
  27. Weiland RT, Ta TC (1992) Allocation and retranslocation of 15N by maize (Zea mays L.) hybrids under field conditions of low and high N fertility. Aust J Plant Physiol 19:77–88Google Scholar
  28. Wetselaar R, Farquhar GD (1980) Nitrogen losses from tops of plants. In: Brady NC (ed) Advances in agronomy, vol 33. Academic Press, New York, pp 263–302Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Scott A. Heckathorn
    • 1
  • Evan H. DeLucia
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Plant BiologyUniversity of IllinoisUrbanaUSA

Personalised recommendations