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Soil respiration response to alterations in precipitation and nitrogen addition in a desert steppe in northern China

Wang, Zhen, Mckenna, Thomas P., Schellenberg, Michael P., Tang, Shiming, Zhang, Yujuan, Ta, Na, Na, Risu, Wang, Hai
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.688 pp. 231-242
climate change, ecosystems, forbs, grasses, net primary productivity, nitrogen, plant communities, polymethylmethacrylate, rain, soil, soil respiration, statistical analysis, steppes, temporal variation, uncertainty, China
Global climate change is expected to significantly influence soil respiration. When limited, rainfall and nitrogen (N) deposition strongly modify soil respiration in a broad range of biomes, but uncertainty remains with regards to the influence of the interactions of seasonal rainfall distribution and N deposition on soil respiration in an arid steppe. In the present study, we manipulated precipitation using V-shaped plexiglass gutters (minus 50%, control, and plus 50% treatments) and tested various N additions (control and plus 35 kg N ha−1 yr−1) to evaluate their impact on soil respiration, measured using a Li-Cor 8100, in a desert steppe in China. Increased precipitation stimulated soil respiration by 26.1%, while decreased precipitation significantly reduced soil respiration by 10.8%. There was a significant increase in soil respiration under N addition at 11.5%. Statistical assessment of their interactions demonstrated that N supplementation strengthened the stimulation of soil respiration under increased precipitation, whereas decreased precipitation offset the positive impact of N addition and led to a reduction in soil respiration. Contrasting interannual precipitation patterns strongly influenced the temporal changes in soil respiration as well as its response to N addition, indicating that the desert steppe plant community was co-limited by water and N. Net primary productivity (aboveground and belowground) predominantly drove soil respiration under altered precipitation and N addition. As grasses are better equipped for water deficit due to their previous exposure to long periods without water, there could be a shift from forb to grass communities under drier conditions. These findings highlight the importance of assessing the differential impacts of plant traits and soil physiochemical properties on soil respiration under altered precipitation and N addition.