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Soil ammonia (NH3) emissions are seldom included in ecosystem nutrient budgets; however, they may represent substantial pathways for ecosystem nitrogen (N) loss, especially in arid regions where hydrologic N losses are comparatively small. To characterize how multiple factors affect soil NH3 emissions, we measured NH3 losses from 6 dryland sites along a gradient in soil pH, atmospheric N deposition, and rainfall. We also enriched soils with ammonium (NH4+), to determine whether N availability would limit emissions, and measured NH3 emissions with passive samplers in soil chambers following experimental wetting. Because the volatilization of NH3 is sensitive to pH, we hypothesized that NH3 emissions would be higher in more alkaline soils and that they would increase with increasing NH4+ availability. Consistent with this hypothesis, average soil NH3 emissions were positively correlated with average site pH (R2 = 0.88, P = 0.004), ranging between 0.77 ± 0.81 µg N-NH3 m−2 h−1 at the least arid and most acidic site and 24.2 ± 16.0 µg N-NH3 m−2 h−1 at the most arid and alkaline site. Wetting soils while simultaneously adding NH4+ increased NH3 emissions from alkaline and moderately acidic soils (F1,35 = 14.7, P < 0.001), suggesting that high N availability can stimulate NH3 emissions even when pH is less than optimal for NH3 volatilization. Thus, both pH and N availability act as proximate controls over NH3 emissions suggesting that these N losses may limit how much N accumulates in arid ecosystems.more » « less
Warming‐induced changes in precipitation regimes, coupled with anthropogenically enhanced nitrogen (N) deposition, are likely to increase the prevalence, duration, and magnitude of soil respiration pulses following wetting via interactions among temperature and carbon (C) and N availability. Quantifying the importance of these interactive controls on soil respiration is a key challenge as pulses can be large terrestrial sources of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) over comparatively short timescales. Using an automated sensor system, we measured soil CO2flux dynamics in the Colorado Desert—a system characterized by pronounced transitions from dry‐to‐wet soil conditions—through a multi‐year series of experimental wetting campaigns. Experimental manipulations included combinations of C and N additions across a range of ambient temperatures and across five sites varying in atmospheric N deposition. We found soil CO2pulses following wetting were highly predictable from peak instantaneous CO2flux measurements. CO2pulses consistently increased with temperature, and temperature at time of wetting positively correlated to CO2pulse magnitude. Experimentally adding N along the N deposition gradient generated contrasting pulse responses: adding N increased CO2pulses in low N deposition sites, whereas adding N decreased CO2pulses in high N deposition sites. At a low N deposition site, simultaneous additions of C and N during wetting led to the highest observed soil CO2fluxes reported globally at 299.5 μmol CO2 m−2 s−1. Our results suggest that soils have the capacity to emit high amounts of CO2within small timeframes following infrequent wetting, and pulse sizes reflect a non‐linear combination of soil resource and temperature interactions. Importantly, the largest soil CO2emissions occurred when multiple resources were amended simultaneously in historically resource‐limited desert soils, pointing to regions experiencing simultaneous effects of desertification and urbanization as key locations in future global C balance.
Climate change is increasing the variability of precipitation, altering the frequency of soil drying‐wetting events and the distribution of seasonal precipitation. These changes in precipitation can alter nitrogen (N) cycling and stimulate nitric oxide (NO) emissions (an air pollutant at high concentrations), which may vary according to legacies of past precipitation and represent a pathway for ecosystem N loss. To identify whether precipitation legacies affect NO emissions, we excluded or added precipitation during the winter growing season in a Pinyon–Juniper dryland and measured in situ NO emissions following experimental wetting. We found that the legacy of both excluding and adding winter precipitation increased NO emissions early in the following summer; cumulative NO emissions from the winter precipitation exclusion plots (2750 ± 972 μg N‐NO m−2) and winter water addition plots (2449 ± 408 μg N‐NO m−2) were higher than control plots (1506 ± 397 μg N‐NO m−2). The increase in NO emissions with previous precipitation exclusion was associated with inorganic N accumulation, while the increase in NO emissions with previous water addition was associated with an upward trend in microbial biomass. Precipitation legacies can accelerate soil NO emissions and may amplify ecosystem N loss in response to more variable precipitation.