, Volume 9, Issue 6, pp 879–893 | Cite as

Controls of Bedrock Geochemistry on Soil and Plant Nutrients in Southeastern Utah

  • J. C. Neff
  • R. Reynolds
  • R. L. SanfordJr.
  • D. Fernandez
  • P. Lamothe


The cold deserts of the Colorado Plateau contain numerous geologically and geochemically distinct sedimentary bedrock types. In the area near Canyonlands National Park in Southeastern Utah, geochemical variation in geologic substrates is related to the depositional environment with higher concentrations of Fe, Al, P, K, and Mg in sediments deposited in alluvial or marine environments and lower concentrations in bedrock derived from eolian sand dunes. Availability of soil nutrients to vegetation is also controlled by the formation of secondary minerals, particularly for P and Ca availability, which, in some geologic settings, appears closely related to variation of CaCO3 and Ca-phosphates in soils. However, the results of this study also indicate that P content is related to bedrock and soil Fe and Al content suggesting that the deposition history of the bedrock and the presence of P-bearing Fe and Al minerals, is important to contemporary P cycling in this region. The relation between bedrock type and exchangeable Mg and K is less clear-cut, despite large variation in bedrock concentrations of these elements. We examined soil nutrient concentrations and foliar nutrient concentration of grasses, shrubs, conifers, and forbs in four geochemically distinct field sites. All four of the functional plant groups had similar proportional responses to variation in soil nutrient availability despite large absolute differences in foliar nutrient concentrations and stoichiometry across species. Foliar P concentration (normalized to N) in particular showed relatively small variation across different geochemical settings despite large variation in soil P availability in these study sites. The limited foliar variation in bedrock-derived nutrients suggests that the dominant plant species in this dryland setting have a remarkably strong capacity to maintain foliar chemistry ratios despite large underlying differences in soil nutrient availability.


desert nutrient soil foliar stoichiometry bedrock 


  1. Aerts R, Chapin FS. 2000. The mineral nutrition of wild plants revisited: a re-evaluation of processes and patterns. Adv Ecol Res 30:1–67Google Scholar
  2. Belnap J. 2001. Nitrogen fixation in biological soil crusts from Southeast Utah, USA. Biol Fertil Soils 35(2):128–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bloom AJ, Chapin FS, Mooney HA. 1985. Resource limitation in plants—an economic analogy. Annu Rev Ecol System 16:363–92Google Scholar
  4. Bowman WD, Bahnj L, Damm M. 2003. Alpine landscape variation in foliar nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and the relation to soil nitrogen and phosphorus availability. Arct Antarct Alp Res 35(2):144–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Briggs PH. 1996. The determination of forty elements in geological materials by inductively coupled plasma-atomic emission spectroscopy. Analytical Methods Manual for the Mineral Resource Program. Bf Arbogast, U.S. Geological Survey, pp 77–94Google Scholar
  6. Carreira JA, Lajtha K. 1997. Factors affecting phosphate sorption along a Mediterranean, dolomitic soil and vegetation chronosequence. Eur J Soil Sci 48(1):139–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chapin FS. 1980. The mineral-nutrition of wild plants. Annu Rev Ecol System 11:233–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Crews TE, Kitayama K, Fownes JH, Riley RH, Herbert DA, Mueller dombois D, Vitousek PM. 1995. Changes in soil phosphorus fractions and ecosystem dynamics across a long chronosequence in Hawaii. Ecol 76(5):1407–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Cross AF, Schlesinger WH. 1995. A literature review and evaluation of the Hedley fractionation—applications to the biogeochemical cycle of soil-phosphorus in natural ecosystems. Geoderma 64(3–4):197–214CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dickinson WR, Gehrels GE. 2003. U-Pb ages of detrital zircons from Permian and Jurassic Eolian Sandstones of the Colorado Plateau, USA: paleogeographic implications. Sediment Geol 163(1–2):29–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Drenovsky RE, Richards JH. 2004. Critical N:P values: predicting nutrient deficiencies in desert shrublands. Plant Soil 259(1–2):59–69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Ernst WG, Van de Ven CM, Lyon RJP. 2003. Relationships among vegetation, climatic zonation, soil, and bedrock in the Central White-Inyo Range, Eastern California: a ground-based and remote-sensing study. Geol Soc Am Bull 115(12):1583–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fernandez DP, Neff JC, Reynolds RL, Belnap J. 2006. Soil respiration in a cold desert environment: abiotic regulators and thresholds. Biogeochemistry 78(3):247–265CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 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 41:387–91Google Scholar
  15. Frossard E, Brossard M, Hedley MJ, Metherell A. 1996. Reactions controlling the cycling of P in soils. In: Tissen H, Ed. Phosphorus in the global environment—transfers, cycles and management. New York: Wiley. pp 107–38.Google Scholar
  16. Grime JP. 1977. Evidence for the existence of three primary strategies in plants and its relevance to ecological and evolutionary theory. Am Nat 111:1169–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gutierrez JR, Whitford WG. 1987. Chihuahuan Desert annuals—importance of water and nitrogen. Ecology 68(6):2032–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hedley MJ, Stewart JWB, Chauhan BS. 1982. Changes in labile inorganic and organic soil phosphorus fractions induced by cultivation practices and by laboratory incubations. Soil Sci Soc Am J 46:970–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hesse PR. 1972. A textbook of soil chemical analysis. New York: Chemical Publishing Co IncGoogle Scholar
  20. Holford, ICRGEG Mattingly. 1975. The high-and low-energy phosphate absorbing surfaces in calcareous soils. J Soil Sci 146:160–7Google Scholar
  21. James DW, Jurinak JJ. 1978. Nitrogen fertilizaton of dominant plants in the northeastern Great Basin desert. Nitrogen in desert ecosystems. Ne West and Jj Skujins. Stroudsburg, (PA): Dowden Hutchinson and Ross. pp 107–29Google Scholar
  22. James DW, Tiller RL, Richards JH, 2005. Multiple resources limit plant growth and function in a saline–alkaline desert community. J Ecol 93:113–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kelso S, Bower NW, Heckmann KE, Beardsley PM, Greve DG. 2003. Geobotany of the Niobrara Chalk Barrens in Colorado: a study of edaphic endemism. West North Am Nat 63:299–313Google Scholar
  24. Knecht MF, Göransson A. 2004. Terrestrial plants require nutrients in similar proportions. Tree Physiol 24(4):447–60PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Knops JMH, Koenig WD. 1997. Site fertility and leaf nutrients of sympatric evergreen and deciduous species of Quercus in Central Coastal California. Plant Ecol 130(2):121–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Koerselman WA, Meuleman FM. 1996. The vegetation N:P ratio: a new tool to detect the nature of nutrient limitation. J Appl Ecol 33(6):1441–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kruckeberg AR. 1986. The stimulus of unusual geologies for plant speciation. Syst Bot 11:455–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Lajtha K, Bloomer SH. 1988. Factors affecting phosphate sorption and phosphate retention in a desert ecosystem. Soil Sci 146:160–7Google Scholar
  29. Lajtha K, Schlesinger WH. 1988a. The biogeochemistry of phosphorus cycling and phosphorus availability along a desert soil chronosequence. Ecology 69(1):24–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Lajtha K, Schlesinger WH. 1988b. The effect of Caco3 on the uptake of phosphorus by two desert shrub species, Larrea-Tridentata (Dc) and Parthenium Incanum. Bot Gaz 149(3):328–34CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lambers H, Poorter H. 1992. Inherent variation in growth-rate between higher-plants—a search for physiological causes and ecological consequences. Adv In Ecol Res 23:187–261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Machette M. 1986. Calcium and magnesium carbonates. In: Singer M, Janitzky P, Eds. Field and laboratory procedures used in a soil chronosequence study. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1648. pp 30–3Google Scholar
  33. McBride EF, Parea GC. 2001. Origin of highly elongate, calcite-cemented concretions in some Italian coastal beach and dune sands. J Sediment Res 71(1):82–7Google Scholar
  34. McGroddy ME, Daufresne T, Hedin LO. 2004. Scaling of C:N:P stoichiometry in forests worldwide: implications of terrestrial redfield-type ratios. Ecology 85(9):2390–401Google Scholar
  35. Meerts P. 1997. Foliar macronutrient concentrations of forest understorey species in relation to Ellenberg’s indices and potential relative growth rate. Plant Soil 189(2):257–65CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Meier IC, Leuschner C, Hertel D. 2005. Nutrient return with leaf litter fall in fagus sylvatica forests across a soil fertility gradient. Plant Ecol 177(1):99–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Neff JC, Reynolds RL, Belnap J, Lamothe P. 2005. Multi-decadal impacts of grazing on soil physical and biogeochemical properties in southeast Utah. Ecol Appl 15(1):87–95Google Scholar
  38. Nelson DR, Harper KT. 1991. Site characteristics and habitat requirements of the endangered dwarf bear-claw poppy (Arctomecon-Humilis Coville, Papaveraceae). Great Basin Nat 51(2):167–75Google Scholar
  39. Noy-Meir I. 1973. Desert ecosystems: environment and producers. Annu Rev Ecol System 4:25–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Reich PB, Oleksyn J. 2004. Global patterns of plant leaf N and P in relation to temperature and latitude. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101(30):11001–6PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Reynolds RL, Neff JC, Reheis M, Lamothe P. 2006. Atmospheric dust in modern soil on Aeolian sandstone, Colorado Plateau (USA): variation with landscape position and contribution to potential plant nutrients. Geoderma 130:108–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Ryan J, Hasan HM, Bassiri M, Tabbara HS. 1985. Availability and transformation of applied phosphorus in calcarous soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 51:1215–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Samadi AR, Gilkes J. 1998. Forms of soil phosphorus in virgin and fertilized calcareous soils of Western Australia. Soil Sci Soc Am J 63:809–15CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Schlesinger WH, Pilmanis AM. 1998. Plant–Soil interactions in deserts. Biogeochemistry 42(1–2):169–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Schlesinger WH, Raikes JA, Hartley AE, Cross AE. 1996. On the spatial pattern of soil nutrients in desert ecosystems. Ecology 77(2):364–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Soil Survey Division Staff (SSD Staff) 1993. Soil survey manual. Soil Conservation ServiceGoogle Scholar
  47. Sterner RW, Elser JJ. 2002. Ecological stoichiometry: the biology of elements from molecules to the biosphere. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University PressGoogle Scholar
  48. Tiessen H, Moir JO. 1993. Characterization of available phosphorus by sequential extraction. In: Carter MR, Ed. Soil Sampling and Methods of analysis, Canadian Society of Soil Science. Boca Raton (FL): Lewis. pp 75–86Google Scholar
  49. U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service. 1991. Soil Survey of Canyonlands Area, Utah; Parts of Grand and San Juan Counties. Sc Service 193Google Scholar
  50. Van Arendonk JJCM, Poorter H. 1994. The chemical composition and anatomical structure of leaves of grass species differing in relative growth rate. Plant Cell Enviorn 17:963–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Van Buren R, Harper KT, 2003. Demographic and environmental relations of two rare Astragalus species endemic to Washington County, Utah: Astragalus Holmgreniorum and a-Ampullarioides. West North Am Nat 63(2):236–43Google Scholar
  52. Walker TW, Syers JK. 1976. Fate of phosphorus during pedogenesis. Geoderma 15(1):1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Welsh SL. 1978. Endangered and threatened plants of Utah: a reevaluation. Great Basin Nat 38:1–18Google Scholar
  54. Whitford WG. 2002. Ecology of desert systems. New York: Academic Press. p 343Google Scholar
  55. Wright RD, Mooney HA. 1965. Substrate-oriented distribution of bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California. Am Mid Nat 73:257–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. C. Neff
    • 1
    • 2
  • R. Reynolds
    • 2
  • R. L. SanfordJr.
    • 3
  • D. Fernandez
    • 1
  • P. Lamothe
    • 2
  1. 1.Geological Sciences and Environmental StudiesUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey, ms 980Denver Federal CenterDenverUSA
  3. 3.Biological Sciences DepartmentUniversity of DenverDenverUSA

Personalised recommendations