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Ecosystems

, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 711–724 | Cite as

Soil Characteristics and the Accumulation of Inorganic Nitrogen in an Arid Urban Ecosystem

  • Wei-Xing ZhuEmail author
  • Diane Hope
  • Corinna Gries
  • Nancy B. Grimm
Article

Abstract

Urbanization represents the extreme case of human influence on an ecosystem. Biogeochemical cycling of nitrogen (N) in cities is very different from that of non-urban landscapes due to the large input of reactive forms of N and the heterogeneous distribution of various land uses that alters landscape connections. To quantify the likely effects of human activities on soil N and other soil properties in urban ecosystems, we conducted a probability-based study to sample 203 plots randomly distributed over the 6,400 km2 Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) area, which encompasses metropolitan Phoenix with its 3.5 million inhabitants. Soil inorganic N concentrations were significantly higher in urban residential, non-residential, agricultural, transportation, and mixed sites than in the desert sites. Soil water content and organic matter were both significantly higher under urban and agricultural land uses, whereas bulk density was lower compared to undeveloped desert. We calculated that farming and urbanization on average had caused an accumulation of 7.23 g m−2 in soil inorganic N across the CAP study area. Average soil inorganic N of the sampled desert sites (3.23 g m−2) was much higher than the natural background level reported in the literature. Laboratory incubation studies showed that many urban soils exhibited net immobilization of inorganic N, whereas desert and agricultural soils showed small, but positive, net N mineralization. The large accumulation of inorganic N in soils (mostly as nitrate) was highly unusual in terrestrial ecosystems, suggesting that in this arid urban ecosystem, N is likely no longer the primary limiting resource affecting plants, but instead poses a threat to surface and groundwater contamination, and influences other N cycling processes such as denitrification.

Keywords

urban land use soil nitrogen nitrate Central Arizona-Phoenix LTER 

Notes

Acknowledgements

This project is supported by the National Science Foundation Grant nos. DEB-9714833 and DEB-0423704. We are grateful to the entire 2000 sampling crew for their dedicated work both in the field and in the laboratory. We are indebted to the editors and reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions. We thank Dr. Doug Green for providing consultation on soil sampling and soil processing and Dr. Jason Kaye for comments on writing. This paper is a contribution from the Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research Program.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wei-Xing Zhu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Diane Hope
    • 2
  • Corinna Gries
    • 2
  • Nancy B. Grimm
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesState University of New York–BinghamtonBinghamtonUSA
  2. 2.Center for Environmental StudiesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  3. 3.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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