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Plant hydraulic responses to long-term dry season nitrogen deposition alter drought tolerance in a Mediterranean-type ecosystem

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Abstract

Anthropogenic nitrogen (N) deposition represents a significant N input for many terrestrial ecosystems. N deposition can affect plants on scales ranging from photosynthesis to community composition, yet few studies have investigated how changes in N availability affect plant water relations. We tested the effects of N addition on plant water relations, hydraulic traits, functional traits, gas exchange, and leaf chemistry in a semi-arid ecosystem in Southern California using long-term experimental plots fertilized with N for over a decade. The dominant species were Artemisia california and Salvia mellifera at Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve and Adenostoma fasciculatum and Ceanothus greggii at Sky Oaks Field Station. All species, except Ceanothus, showed increased leaf N concentration, decreased foliar carbon to N ratio, and increased foliar N isotopic composition with fertilization, indicating that added N was taken up by study species, yet each species had a differing physiological response to long-term N addition. Dry season predawn water potentials were less negative with N addition for all species except Adenostoma, but there were no differences in midday water potentials, or wet season water potentials. Artemisia was particularly responsive, as N addition increased stem hydraulic conductivity, stomatal conductance, and leaf carbon isotopic composition, and decreased wood density. The alteration of water relations and drought resistance parameters with N addition in Artemisia, as well as Adenostoma, Ceanothus, and Salvia, indicate that N deposition can affect the ability of native Southern California shrubs to respond to drought.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Pablo Bryant and the San Diego State University Field Stations Program for logistical support at the SMER and SOFS; Delores Lucero and the Facility for Isotopic Ratio Mass Spectrometry at the University of California Riverside for running our isotope samples; Travis Huxman, Mike Goulden, and Jim Randerson at the University of California Irvine for allowing us to use their Sorvall RC-5Cplus centrifuge to run stem vulnerability curves; Max Brodie, Mark De Guzman, Brandon McNellis, Eric Pivovaroff, and Victoria Woods at the University of California Riverside for help in the field; and members of the Santiago lab for reviewing early drafts of this manuscript.

Author contribution statement

A. L. P. and L. S. S. conceived and designed the experiments; A. L. P. conducted the field and lab work, analyzed the data, and wrote the manuscript; G. L. V. designed and implemented the experimental plots and granted permission for their use in this study; L. S. S., G. L. V., D. A. G. and M. F. A. provided editorial advice.

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Correspondence to Alexandria L. Pivovaroff.

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This work was supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, National Science Foundation grant IOS-0817212 to L. S. S. and National Science Foundation graduate research fellowship DGE-1326120 to A. L. P.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Communicated by Allan T. G. Green.

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Pivovaroff, A.L., Santiago, L.S., Vourlitis, G.L. et al. Plant hydraulic responses to long-term dry season nitrogen deposition alter drought tolerance in a Mediterranean-type ecosystem. Oecologia 181, 721–731 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-016-3609-2

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