Alterations of nitrogen dynamics under elevated carbon dioxide in an intact Mojave Desert ecosystem: evidence from nitrogen-15 natural abundance
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We examined soil and vegetation N isotopic composition (δ15N) and soil inorganic N availability in an intact Mojave desert ecosystem to evaluate potential effects of elevated atmospheric CO2 on N cycling. Vegetation from the dominant perennial shrub Larrea tridentata under elevated CO2 was enriched in 15N. Over a 7-month sampling period, Larrea δ15N values increased from 5.7±0.1‰ to 9.0±1.1‰ with elevated CO2; under ambient conditions, δ15N values of shrubs increased from 4.9±0.3‰ to 6.6±0.7‰. No difference was found in soil δ15N under elevated and ambient CO2. Soil δ15N values under the drought deciduous shrubs Lycium spp. were greatest (7.2±0.3‰), and soil under the C4 perennial bunchgrass Pleuraphis rigida had the lowest values (4.5±0.2‰). Several mechanisms could explain the enrichment in 15N of vegetation with elevated CO2. Results suggest that microbial activity has increased with elevated CO2, enriching pools of plant-available N and decreasing N availability. This hypothesis is supported by a significant reduction of plant-available N under elevated CO2. This indicates that exposure to elevated CO2 has resulted in significant perturbations to the soil N cycle, and that plant δ15N may be a useful tool for interpreting changes in the N cycle in numerous ecosystems.
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