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null (Ed.)Whether and how CO 2 and nitrogen (N) availability interact to influence carbon (C) cycling processes such as soil respiration remains a question of considerable uncertainty in projecting future C–climate feedbacks, which are strongly influenced by multiple global change drivers, including elevated atmospheric CO 2 concentrations (eCO 2 ) and increased N deposition. However, because decades of research on the responses of ecosystems to eCO 2 and N enrichment have been done largely independently, their interactive effects on soil respiratory CO 2 efflux remain unresolved. Here, we show that in a multifactor free-air CO 2 enrichment experiment, BioCON (Biodiversity, CO 2 , and N deposition) in Minnesota, the positive response of soil respiration to eCO 2 gradually strengthened at ambient (low) N supply but not enriched (high) N supply for the 12-y experimental period from 1998 to 2009. In contrast to earlier years, eCO 2 stimulated soil respiration twice as much at low than at high N supply from 2006 to 2009. In parallel, microbial C degradation genes were significantly boosted by eCO 2 at low but not high N supply. Incorporating those functional genes into a coupled C–N ecosystem model reduced model parameter uncertainty and improved the projections of the effects of different CO 2 and N levels on soil respiration. If our observed results generalize to other ecosystems, they imply widely positive effects of eCO 2 on soil respiration even in infertile systems.more » « less
Whether the terrestrial biosphere will continue to act as a net carbon (C) sink in the face of multiple global changes is questionable. A key uncertainty is whether increases in plant C fixation under elevated carbon dioxide (CO2) will translate into decades-long C storage and whether this depends on other concurrently changing factors. We investigated how manipulations of CO2, soil nitrogen (N) supply, and plant species richness influenced total ecosystem (plant + soil to 60 cm) C storage over 19 y in a free-air CO2enrichment grassland experiment (BioCON) in Minnesota. On average, after 19 y of treatments, increasing species richness from 1 to 4, 9, or 16 enhanced total ecosystem C storage by 22 to 32%, whereas N addition of 4 g N m−2⋅ y−1and elevated CO2of +180 ppm had only modest effects (increasing C stores by less than 5%). While all treatments increased net primary productivity, only increasing species richness enhanced net primary productivity sufficiently to more than offset enhanced C losses and substantially increase ecosystem C pools. Effects of the three global change treatments were generally additive, and we did not observe any interactions between CO2and N. Overall, our results call into question whether elevated CO2will increase the soil C sink in grassland ecosystems, helping to slow climate change, and suggest that losses of biodiversity may influence C storage as much as or more than increasing CO2or high rates of N deposition in perennial grassland systems.
Vegetation greenness has increased across much of the global land surface over recent decades. This trend is projected to continue—particularly in northern latitudes—but future greening may be constrained by nutrient availability needed for plant carbon (C) assimilation in response to CO2enrichment (eCO2). eCO2impacts foliar chemistry and function, yet the relative strengths of these effects versus climate in driving patterns of vegetative greening remain uncertain. Here we combine satellite measurements of greening with a 135 year record of plant C and nitrogen (N) concentrations and stable isotope ratios (δ13C and δ15N) in the Northern Great Plains (NGP) of North America to examine N constraints on greening. We document significant greening over the past two decades with the highest proportional increases in net greening occurring in the dries and warmest areas. In contrast to the climate dependency of greening, we find spatially uniform increases in leaf‐level intercellular CO2and intrinsic water use efficiency that track rising atmospheric CO2. Despite large spatial variation in greening, we find sustained and climate‐independent declines in foliar N over the last century. Parallel declines in foliar δ15N and increases in C:N ratios point to diminished N availability as the likely cause. The simultaneous increase in greening and decline in foliar N across our study area points to increased N use efficiency (NUE) over the last two decades. However, our results suggest that plant NUE responses are likely insufficient to sustain observed greening trends in NGP grasslands in the future.
Elevated deposition of atmospheric nitrogen (N) has shifted nutrient availability in terrestrial and aquatic habitats of ecosystems, but rarely are ecosystem processes in those components examined simultaneously. We used a multi-decadal, whole, paired watershed experiment to determine how chronic N enrichment with (NH4)2SO4alters litter decomposition in terrestrial and stream systems. We also used short-term phosphorus (P) enrichment experiments within both watersheds to determine whether chronic N enrichment enhances P limitation of decomposition. Leaves from N-treated and reference watersheds were used in a reciprocal design to parse effects of altered nutrient availability in leaves and in the environment. We found divergent responses of terrestrial and stream decomposition to altered nutrient regimes. Chronic experimental N enrichment increased N and P concentrations in post-abscission leaves which decayed faster than leaves from the reference watershed in the terrestrial environment. Experimental N enrichment also did not induce P limitation of terrestrial decomposition. In contrast, litter decomposition rate in the two streams was not enhanced by elevated N in stream water or by altered leaf chemistry. Instead, chronic experimental N enrichment shifted decomposition in streams from co-limitation to strong P limitation. Microbial respiration and extracellular enzyme production responded to altered nutrient availability in a manner consistent with resource allocation models. Divergent responses of terrestrial and aquatic decomposition to elevated N deposition likely arise from differences in water bioavailability. Our work highlights the value of simultaneously considering ecosystem processes in terrestrial and aquatic systems to understand the consequences of integrated landscape processes operating on large spatial scales.
Climate change is creating widespread ecosystem disturbance across the permafrost zone, including a rapid increase in the extent and severity of tundra wildfire. The expansion of this previously rare disturbance has unknown consequences for lateral nutrient flux from terrestrial to aquatic environments. Lateral loss of nutrients could reduce carbon uptake and slow recovery of already nutrient‐limited tundra ecosystems. To investigate the effects of tundra wildfire on lateral nutrient export, we analyzed water chemistry in and around the 10‐year‐old Anaktuvuk River fire scar in northern Alaska. We collected water samples from 21 burned and 21 unburned watersheds during snowmelt, at peak growing season, and after plant senescence in 2017 and 2018. After a decade of ecosystem recovery, aboveground biomass had recovered in burned watersheds, but overall carbon and nitrogen remained ~20% lower, and the active layer remained ~10% deeper. Despite lower organic matter stocks, dissolved organic nutrients were substantially elevated in burned watersheds, with higher flow‐weighted concentrations of organic carbon (25% higher), organic nitrogen (59% higher), organic phosphorus (65% higher), and organic sulfur (47% higher). Geochemical proxies indicated greater interaction with mineral soils in watersheds with surface subsidence, but optical analysis and isotopes suggested that recent plant growth, not mineral soil, was the main source of organic nutrients in burned watersheds. Burned and unburned watersheds had similar δ15N‐NO3−, indicating that exported nitrogen was of preburn origin (i.e., not recently fixed). Lateral nitrogen flux from burned watersheds was 2‐ to 10‐fold higher than rates of background nitrogen fixation and atmospheric deposition estimated in this area. These findings indicate that wildfire in Arctic tundra can destabilize nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur previously stored in permafrost via plant uptake and leaching. This plant‐mediated nutrient loss could exacerbate terrestrial nutrient limitation after disturbance or serve as an important nutrient release mechanism during succession.