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Quantifying atmospheric N deposition in dryland ecosystems: A test of the Integrated Total Nitrogen Input (ITNI) method

Sickman, James O., James, Amanda E., Fenn, Mark E., Bytnerowicz, Andrzej, Lucero, Delores M., Homyak, Peter M.
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.646 pp. 1253-1264
aboveground biomass, arid lands, biomass production, canopy, collectors, gases, isotope dilution technique, nitrogen, nitrogen content, phytomass, pollution load, rain, shrublands, stomatal conductance, terrestrial ecosystems, throughfall, California
Estimating nitrogen (N) deposition to terrestrial ecosystems is complicated by the multiple forms and routes of N loading from the atmosphere. We used the integrated total nitrogen input (ITNI) method, which is based on the principle of isotope dilution within a plant-liquid-sand system, to quantify N inputs to coastal sage scrub ecosystems in Riverside, California. Using the ITNI method, we measured atmospheric N deposition of 29.3 kg N ha−1 yr−1 over a range of aboveground plant biomass of 228 to 424 g m−2. From 85 to 96% of the atmospheric N inputs were taken up by plants in the ITNI modules with most of the assimilation mediated by, and stored in, aboveground biomass. Parallel measurements using conventional approaches yielded deposition rates of 25.2 kg N ha−1 yr−1 when using the inferential method and 4.8 kg N ha−1 yr−1 using throughfall collectors. The relatively low throughfall estimates were attributed to canopy retention of inorganic N, low rainfall, and to the fact that the throughfall flux data did not include organic N and stomatal uptake of N gases. Also, during dry periods, frequent watering of ITNI modules may have increased stomatal conductance and led to overestimates of N deposition. Across published studies that used the ITNI method, areal N deposition rates varied by ~40-fold, were positively correlated with plant biomass and 90% of the variability in measured deposition rates can be explained by plant biomass production. The ITNI method offers a holistic approach to measuring atmospheric N deposition in arid ecosystems, although more study is needed to understand how watering rates effect N deposition measurements.