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  1. Abstract

    Wildfires may increase soil emissions of trace nitrogen (N) gases like nitric oxide (NO) and nitrous oxide (N2O) by changing soil physicochemical conditions and altering microbial processes like nitrification and denitrification. When 34 studies were synthesized, we found a significant increase in both NO and N2O emissions up to 1 year post-fire across studies spanning ecosystems globally. However, when fluxes were separated by ecosystem type, we found that individual ecosystem types responded uniquely to fire. Forest soils tended to emit more N2O after fire, but there was no significant effect on NO. Shrubland soils showed significant increases in both NO and N2O emissions after fires; often with extremely large but short-lived NO pulses occurring immediately after fire. Grassland NO emissions increased after fire, but the size of this effect was small relative to shrublands. N2O emissions from burned grasslands were highly variable with no significant effect. To better understand the variation in responses to fire across global ecosystems, more consistent measurements of variables recognized as important controls on soil fluxes of NO and N2O (e.g., N cycling rates, soil water content, pH, and substrate availability) are needed across studies. We also suggest that fire-specific elements like burn severity, microbial community succession, and the presence of char be considered by future studies. Our synthesis suggests that fires can exacerbate ecosystem N loss long after they burn, increasing soil emissions of NO and N2O with implications for ecosystem N loss, climate, and regional air quality as wildfires increase globally.

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  2. Abstract

    Climate change and nitrogen (N) pollution are altering biogeochemical and ecohydrological processes in dryland watersheds, increasing N export, and threatening water quality. While simulation models are useful for projecting how N export will change in the future, most models ignore biogeochemical “hotspots” that develop in drylands as moist microsites in the soil become hydrologically disconnected from plant roots when soils dry out. These hotspots enable N to accumulate over dry periods and rapidly flush to streams when soils wet up. To better project future N export, we developed a framework for representing hotspots using the ecohydrological model RHESSys. We then conducted a series of virtual experiments to understand how uncertainties in model structure and parameters influence N export to streams. Modeled N export was sensitive to three major factors (a) the abundance of hotspots in a watershed: N export increased linearly and then reached an asymptote with increasing hotspot abundance; this occurred because carbon and N inputs eventually became limiting as hotspots displaced vegetation cover, (b) the soil moisture threshold required for subsurface flow from hotspots to reestablish: peak streamflow N export increased and then decreased with an increasing threshold due to tradeoffs between N accumulation and export that occur with increasingly disconnected hotspots, and (c) the rate at which water diffused out of hotspots as soils dried down: N export was generally higher when the rate was slow because more N could accumulate in hotspots over dry periods, and then be flushed more rapidly to streams at the onset of rain. In a case study, we found that when hotspots were modeled explicitly, peak streamflow nitrate export increased by 29%, enabling us to better capture the timing and magnitude of N losses observed in the field. N export further increased in response to interannual precipitation variability, particularly when multiple dry years were followed by a wet year. This modeling framework can improve projections of N export in watersheds where hotspots play an increasingly important role in water quality.

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  3. 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. 
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  4. While altered precipitation regimes can greatly impact biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, we lack a comprehensive view of how these impacts are mediated by changes to the seasonality of precipitation (i.e., whether it rains more/less in one season relative to another). Over 2 years, we examined how altered seasonal precipitation influenced annual plant biomass and species richness, Simpson’s diversity, and community composition of annual plant communities in a dryland ecosystem that receives both winter and summer rainfall and has distinct annual plant communities in each season. Using a rainfall exclusion, collection, and distribution system, we excluded precipitation and added water during each season individually and compared responses to control plots which received ambient summer and winter precipitation. In control plots, we found five times greater annual plant biomass, twice as many species, and higher diversity in winter relative to summer. Adding water increased annual plant biomass in summer only, did not change richness or diversity in either summer or winter, and modestly shifted community composition. Excluding precipitation in either season reduced annual plant biomass, richness, and Simpson’s diversity. However, in the second winter season, biomass was higher in the plots where precipitation was excluded in the previous summer seasons suggesting that reduced productivity in the summer may facilitate biomass in the winter. Our results suggest that increased precipitation in summer may have stronger short-term impacts on annual plant biodiversity and ecosystem function relative to increased winter precipitation. In contrast, decreasing precipitation may have ubiquitous negative effects on annual plants across both summer and winter but may lead to increased biomass in the following off-seasons. These patterns suggest that annual plant communities exhibit asymmetries in their community and ecosystem responses to altered seasonal precipitation and that considering the seasonality of precipitation is important for predicting the effects of altered precipitation regimes. 
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  5. Abstract

    Soil drying and wetting cycles can produce pulses of nitric oxide (NO) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions with substantial effects on both regional air quality and Earth’s climate. While pulsed production of N emissions is ubiquitous across ecosystems, the processes governing pulse magnitude and timing remain unclear. We studied the processes producing pulsed NO and N2O emissions at two contrasting drylands, desert and chaparral, where despite the hot and dry conditions known to limit biological processes, some of the highest NO and N2O flux rates have been measured. We measured N2O and NO emissions every 30 min for 24 h after wetting soils with isotopically-enriched nitrate and ammonium solutions to determine production pathways and their timing. Nitrate was reduced to N2O within 15 min of wetting, with emissions exceeding 1000 ng N–N2O m−2 s−1and returning to background levels within four hours, but the pulse magnitude did not increase in proportion to the amount of ammonium or nitrate added. In contrast to N2O, NO was emitted over 24 h and increased in proportion to ammonium addition, exceeding 600 ng N–NO m−2 s−1in desert and chaparral soils. Isotope tracers suggest that both ammonia oxidation and nitrate reduction produced NO. Taken together, our measurements demonstrate that nitrate can be reduced within minutes of wetting summer-dry desert soils to produce large N2O emission pulses and that multiple processes contribute to long-lasting NO emissions. These mechanisms represent substantial pathways of ecosystem N loss that also contribute to regional air quality and global climate dynamics.

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  6. Abstract

    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.

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  7. Abstract

    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.

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