, Volume 99, Issue 3–4, pp 233–242 | Cite as

Water and nitrogen dynamics in an arid woodland

  • R. D. Evans
  • J. R. Ehleringer
Original Paper


Arid environments are characterized by spatial and temporal variation in water and nitrogen availability. differences in δ15N and δD of four co-occurring species reveal contrasting patterns of plant resource acquisition in response to this variation. Mineralization potential and nitrogen concentration of surface soils associated with plant canopies were greater than inter-canopy locations, and values decreased with increasing depth in both locations. Mineralization potential and nitrogen concentration were both negatively correlated with soil δ15N. The spatial variation in soil δ15N caused corresponding changes in plant δ15N such that plant δ15N values were negatively correlated with nitrogen concentration of surface soils. Plants occurring on soils with relatively high nitrogen concentrations had lower δ15N, and higher leaf nitrogen concentrations, than plants occurring on soils with relatively low nitrogen concentrations. Two general temporal patterns of water and nitrogen use were apparent. Three species (Juniperus, Pinus andArtemisia) relied on the episodic availability of water and nitrogen at the soil surface. δ15N values did not vary through the year, while xylem pressure potentials and stem-water δD values fluctuated with changes in soil moisture at the soil surface. In contrast,Chrysothamnus switched to a more stable water and nitrogen source during drought. δ15N values ofChrysothamnus increased throughout the year, while xylem pressure potentials and stem-water δD values remained constant. The contrasting patterns of resource acquisition have important implications for community stability following disturbance. Disturbance can cause a decrease in nitrogen concentration at the soil surface, and so plants that rely on surface water and nitrogen may be more susceptible than those that switch to more stable water and nitrogen sources at depth during drougnt.

Key words

Cryptobiotic crust Desert ecology Nitrogen cycle Stable isotopes Water source 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Barnes CJ, Allison GB (1983) The distribution of deuterium and18O in dry soils. 1. Theory. J Hydrol (Amst) 60: 141–156Google Scholar
  2. Barnes CJ, Allison GB (1988) Tracing of water movement in the unsaturated zone using stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen. J Hydrol (Amst) 100: 143–176Google Scholar
  3. Belnap J (1993) Recovery rates of cryptobiotic crusts: inoculant use and assessment methods. Great Basin Nat 53: 89–95Google Scholar
  4. Binkley D, Vitousek P (1989) Soil nutrient availability. In: Pearcy RW, Ehleringer JR, Mooney HA, Rundel PW (eds) Plant physiological ecology. Field methods and instrumentation. Chapman and Hall, New York, pp 75–96Google Scholar
  5. Burke IC (1989) Control of nitrogen mineralization in a Sagebrush Steppe landscape. Ecology 70: 1115–1126Google Scholar
  6. Chapin FS, Bloom AJ, Field C, Waring RH (1987) Plant responses to multiple environmental factors. Bioscience 37: 49–57Google Scholar
  7. Charley JL, West NE (1977) Micro-patterns of nitrogen mineralization activity in soils of some shrub-dominated semi-desert ecosystems of Utah. Soil Biol Biochem 9: 357–365Google Scholar
  8. Daubenmire R (1970) Steppe vegetation of Washington. Washington Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin 72, PullmanGoogle Scholar
  9. Dawson TE, Ehleringer JR (1991) Streamside trees that do not use stream water. Nature 350: 335–337Google Scholar
  10. DeLucia EH, Schlesinger WH (1991) Resource-use efficiency and drought tolerance in adjacent Great Basin and Sierran plants. Ecology 72: 51–58Google Scholar
  11. Doescher PS, Miller RF, Wang J, Rose J (1990) Effects of nitrogen availability on growth and photosynthesis ofArtemisia tridentate ssp.wyomingensis. Great Basin Nat 50: 9–19Google Scholar
  12. Ehleringer JR, Dawson TE (1992) Water uptake by plants: perspectives from stable isotope composition. Plant Cell Environ 15: 1073–1082Google Scholar
  13. Ehleringer JR, Phillips SL, Schuster WSF, Sandquist DR (1991) Differential utilization of summer rains by desert plants. Oecologia 88: 430–434Google Scholar
  14. Ehleringer JR, Mooney HA, Rundel PW, Evans RD, Palma B, Delatorre J (1992) Lack of nitrogen cycling in the Atacama Desert. Nature 359: 316–318Google Scholar
  15. Ettershank G, Ettershank J, Bryant M, Whitford WG (1978) Effects of nitrogen fertilization on primary production in a Chihuahuan desert ecosystem. J Arid Environ 1: 135–139Google Scholar
  16. Evans RD, Black RA (1993) Growth, photosynthesis, and resource investment for vegetative and reproductive modules ofArtemisia tridentata. Ecology 74: 1516–1528Google Scholar
  17. Evans RD, Ehleringer JR (1993) A break in the nitrogen cycle of aridlands: evidence from δ15N of soils. Oecologia 94: 314–317Google Scholar
  18. Evans RD, Black RA, Link SO (1991) Reproductive growth during drought inArtemisia tridentata. Funct Ecol 5: 676–683Google Scholar
  19. Field C, Mooney HA (1986) The photosynthesis-nitrogen relationship in wild plants. In: Givnish TJ (ed) On the economy of plant form and function. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 25–55Google Scholar
  20. Fisher FM, Zak JC, Cunningham GL, Whitford WG (1988) Water and nitrogen effects on growth and allocation patterns of creosotebush in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. J Range Manage 41: 387–391Google Scholar
  21. Flanagan LB, Ehleringer JR (1991) Stable isotope composition of stem and leaf water: applications to the study of plant water use. Funct Ecol 5: 270–277Google Scholar
  22. Flanagan LB, Ehleringer JR, Marshall JD (1992) Differential uptake of summer precipitation among co-occurring trees and shrubs in a pinyon-juniper woodland. Plant Cell Environ 15: 831–836Google Scholar
  23. Garten CT (1993) Variation in foliar15N abundance and the availability of soil nitrogen on Walker Branch watershed. Ecology 74: 2098–2113Google Scholar
  24. Gebauer G, Schulze E-D (1991) Carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in different compartments of a healthy and a decliningPicea abies forest in the Fichtelgebirge, NE Bavaria. Oecologia 87: 198–207Google Scholar
  25. Handley LL, Raven JA (1992) The use of natural abundance of nitrogen isotopes in plant physiology and ecology. Plant Cell Environ 15: 965–985Google Scholar
  26. Harper KT, Marble JR (1988) A role for nonvascular plants in management of arid and semiarid regions. In: Tueller PT (ed) Vegetation science applications for rangeland analysis and management. Kluwer, Boston, pp 135–169Google Scholar
  27. Högberg P (1990)15N natural abundance as a possible marker of the ectomycorrhizal habit of trees in mixed African woodlands. New Phytol 115: 483–486Google Scholar
  28. Keeney DR (1982) Nitrogen-availability indices. In: Page AL, Miller RH, Keeney DR (eds) Methods of soil analysis. 2. Chemical and microbiological properties, 2nd edn. American Society of Agronomy Madison, pp 711–733Google Scholar
  29. Keeney DR, Nelson DW (1982) Nitrogen — inorganic forms. In: Page AL, Miller RH, Keeney DR (eds) Methods of soil analysis. 2. Chemical and microbiological properties, 2nd edn. American Society of Agronomy, Madison, pp 643–698Google Scholar
  30. Lajtha K, Barnes F (1991) Carbon gain and water use in pinyon pine-juniper woodlands of northern New Mexico: field versus phytotron chamber measurements. Tree Physiol 9: 59–67Google Scholar
  31. Mariotti A, Mariotti F, Champigny M-L, Amarger N, Moyse A (1982) Nitrogen isotope fractionation associated with nitrate reductase activity and uptake of NOinf3sup− by Pearl Millet. Plant Physiol 69: 880–884Google Scholar
  32. Miller RF, Doescher PS, Wang J (1991) Response ofArtemisia tridentata ssp.wyomingensis andStipa thurberiana to nitrogen amendments. Am Midl Nat 125: 104–113Google Scholar
  33. Nadelhoffer KJ, Fry B (1988) Controls on natural nitrogen-15 and carbon-13 abundances in forest soil organic matter. Soil Sci Soc Am J 52: 1633–1640Google Scholar
  34. Nadelhoffer KJ, Fry B (1994) Nitrogen isotope studies in forest ecosystems. In: Lajtha K, Michener R (eds) Stable isotopes in ecology. Blackwell, Oxford (in press)Google Scholar
  35. Neter J, Wasserman W, Kutner MH (1985) Applied linear statistical models. 2nd edn. Irwin, HomewoodGoogle Scholar
  36. Nye PH, Tinker PB (1977) Solute movement in the soil-root system. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  37. Schlesinger WH, DeLucia EH, Billings WD (1989) Nutrient-use efficiency of woody plants on contrasting soils in the western Great Basin, Nevada. Ecology 70: 105–113Google Scholar
  38. Schlesinger WH, Reynolds JF, Cunningham GL, Heunneke LF, Jarrell WH, Virginia RA, Whitford WG (1990) Biological feedbacks in global desertification. Science 247: 1043–1048Google Scholar
  39. Schulze E-D (1986) Whole-plant responses to drought. Aust J Plant Physiol 13: 127–141Google Scholar
  40. Sharifi MR, Meinzer FC, Nilsen ET, Rundel PW, Virginia RA, Jarrell WM, Herman DJ, Clark PC (1988) Effect of manipulation of water and nitrogen supplies on the quantitative phenology ofLarrea tridentata (Creosote Bush) in the Sonoran Desert of California. Am J Bot 75: 1163–1174Google Scholar
  41. Shearer G, Kohl DH (1986) N2-fixation in field settings: estimations based on natural15N abundance. Aust J Plant Physiol 13: 699–756Google Scholar
  42. Shearer G, Kohl DH, Virginia RA, Bryan BA, Skeeters JL, Nilsen ET, Sharifi MR, Rundel PW (1983) Estimates of N2-fixation from variation in the natural abundance of15N in Sonoran Desert ecosystems. Oecologia 56: 365–373Google Scholar
  43. Turner NC (1986) Adaptation to water deficits: a changing perspective. Aust J Plant Physiol 13: 175–190Google Scholar
  44. Virginia RA, Delwiche CC (1982) Natural15N abundance of presumed N2-fixing and non-N2-fixing plants from selected ecosystems. Oecologia 54: 317–325Google Scholar
  45. White JWC, Cook ER, Lawrence JR, Broecker WS (1985) The D/H ratios of sap in trees: implications for water sources and tree ring D/H ratios. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 49: 237–246Google Scholar
  46. Yoneyama T, Kaneko A (1989) Variations in the natural abundance of15N in nitrogenous fractions of komatsuna plants supplied with nitrate. Plant Cell Physiol 30: 957–962Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1994

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. D. Evans
    • 1
  • J. R. Ehleringer
    • 1
  1. 1.Stable Isotope Ratio Facility for Environmental Research, Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA

Personalised recommendations