, Volume 181, Issue 1, pp 271–285 | Cite as

Plant nitrogen concentration and isotopic composition in residential lawns across seven US cities

  • T. L. E. Trammell
  • D. E. Pataki
  • J. Cavender-Bares
  • P. M. Groffman
  • S. J. Hall
  • J. B. Heffernan
  • S. E. Hobbie
  • J. L. Morse
  • C. Neill
  • K. C. Nelson
Ecosystem ecology – original research


Human drivers are often proposed to be stronger than biophysical drivers in influencing ecosystem structure and function in highly urbanized areas. In residential land cover, private yards are influenced by individual homeowner preferences and actions while also experiencing large-scale human and biophysical drivers. We studied plant nitrogen (%N) and N stable isotopic composition (δ15N) in residential yards and paired native ecosystems in seven cities across the US that span major ecological biomes and climatic regions: Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City. We found that residential lawns in three cities had enriched plant δ15N (P < 0.03) and in six cities higher plant N (%) relative to the associated native ecosystems (P < 0.05). Plant δ15N was progressively depleted across a gradient of urban density classes in Baltimore and Boston (P < 0.05). Lawn fertilization was associated with depleted plant δ15N in Boston and Los Angeles (P < 0.05), and organic fertilizer additions were associated with enriched plant δ15N in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City (P < 0.04). Plant δ15N was significantly enriched as a function of housing age in Baltimore (r 2 = 0.27, P < 0.02), Boston (r 2 = 0.27, P < 0.01), and Los Angeles (r 2 = 0.34, P < 0.01). These patterns in plant δ15N and plant N (%) across these cities suggests that N sources to lawns, as well as greater rates of N cycling combined with subsequent N losses, may be important drivers of plant N dynamics in lawn ecosystems at the national scale.


Urban ecology Natural abundance nitrogen stable isotopes Ecological convergence Nitrogen cycling 



The authors thank Meghan Avolio, La’Shaye Ervin, William Borrowman, Moumita Kundu, and Barbara Uhl for field and laboratory assistance. This research was funded by a series of collaborative grants from the US National Science Foundation (EF-1065548, 1065737, 1065740, 1065741, 1065772, 1065785, 1065831, 121238320).

Author contribution statement

T. L. E. T. conducted laboratory and fieldwork, analyzed the data and wrote the manuscript. D. E. P., J. C.-B., P. M. G., S. J. H., J. B. H., S. E. H., C. N., and K. C. N. formulated the idea and developed methodology. J. L. M. conducted fieldwork. All authors provided editorial advice.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • T. L. E. Trammell
    • 1
  • D. E. Pataki
    • 2
  • J. Cavender-Bares
    • 3
  • P. M. Groffman
    • 4
  • S. J. Hall
    • 5
  • J. B. Heffernan
    • 6
  • S. E. Hobbie
    • 3
  • J. L. Morse
    • 4
    • 7
  • C. Neill
    • 8
  • K. C. Nelson
    • 9
  1. 1.Department of Plant and Soil SciencesUniversity of DelawareNewarkUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and BehaviorUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA
  4. 4.Cary Institute of Ecosystem StudiesMillbrookUSA
  5. 5.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  6. 6.Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityDurhamUSA
  7. 7.Environmental Science and ManagementPortland State UniversityPortlandUSA
  8. 8.The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological LaboratoryWoods HoleUSA
  9. 9.Department of Forest Resources and Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation BiologyUniversity of MinnesotaSt. PaulUSA

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