Drylands are often characterized by a pulse dynamics framework in which episodic rain events trigger brief pulses of biological activity and resource availability that regulate primary production. In the northern Chihuahuan Desert, growing season precipitation typically comes from monsoon rainstorms that stimulate soil microbial processes like decomposition, releasing inorganic nitrogen needed by plant processes. Compared to microbes, plants require greater amounts of soil moisture, typically from larger monsoon storms predicted to become less frequent and more intense in the future. Yet field‐based studies linking rainfall pulses with soil nutrient dynamics are rare. Consequently, little is known about how changes in rainfall patterns may affect plant available nitrogen in dryland soils, particularly across temporal scales. We measured daily and seasonal responses of soil inorganic nitrogen and related parameters to experimentally applied small frequent and large infrequent rain events throughout a summer growing season in a Chihuahuan Desert grassland. Contrary to long‐standing theories around resource pulse dynamics in drylands, nitrogen availability did not pulse following experimental rain events. Moreover, large infrequent events resulted in significantly less plant available nitrogen despite causing distinct pulses of increased soil moisture availability that persisted for several days. Overall, nitrogen availability increased over the growing season, especially following small frequent rain events that also stimulated some microbial ecoenzymatic activities. Our results suggest that projected changes in climate to fewer, larger rain events could significantly impact primary production in desert grasslands by decreasing plant available nitrogen when soil moisture is least limiting to plant growth.more » « less
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- DOI PREFIX: 10.1029
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Journal of Geophysical Research: Biogeosciences
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
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Global environmental change is altering temperature, precipitation patterns, resource availability, and disturbance regimes. Theory predicts that ecological presses will interact with pulse events to alter ecosystem structure and function. In 2006, we established a long‐term, multifactor global change experiment to determine the interactive effects of nighttime warming, increased atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition, and increased winter precipitation on plant community structure and aboveground net primary production (
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Synthesis. Although we did not find evidence of a reciprocal transfer of C and N between plants and biocrusts, plant production was benefited by fungal connections with biocrusts under favourable conditions.