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Elaeagnus angustifolia Elevates Soil Inorganic Nitrogen Pools in Riparian Ecosystems

Follstad Shah, J. J., Harner, M. J., Tibbets, T. M.
Ecosystems 2010 v.13 no.1 pp. 46-61
Elaeagnus angustifolia, Populus deltoides, ecosystems, leaves, mineralization, nitrification, nitrogen, nitrogen content, plant litter, riparian forests, riparian soils, rivers, New Mexico
Elaeagnus angustifolia L., a nonnative N₂-fixer, has established within riparian corridors of the interior western United States and is now the fourth most frequently occurring woody riparian plant in this region. We examined whether E. angustifolia alters pools and fluxes of soil inorganic N at eight sites dominated by Populus deltoides ssp. wislizeni along the Rio Grande in New Mexico over 2 years. E. angustifolia contributed a small fraction of total leaf fall (<5% across sites) but accounted for a disproportionately high amount of N (19%) that entered the system from P. deltoides and E. angustifolia leaf fall, due to the high N content (>2%) of E. angustifolia senesced leaves. Soil inorganic N concentrations and potential rates of nitrification and net N mineralization varied across sites. E. angustifolia leaf fall explained 59% of the variation in soil inorganic N concentrations across years. This relationship suggests that inputs of N-rich leaf litter from E. angustifolia may increase N availability in riparian soils. We detected no relationship between E. angustifolia leaf fall and fluxes of soil inorganic N, whereas others have measured both stimulation and inhibition of soil N cycling by E. angustifolia. Greater abundance of N₂-fixing species in riparian forests may augment growth of neighboring plants or increase N export to rivers. Given these possibilities, ecosystem studies and restoration projects should further examine the potential for E. angustifolia to affect N pools and fluxes along western North American rivers.