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Soil nitrogen cycle unresponsive to decadal long climate change in a Tasmanian grassland

Tobias Rütting, Mark J. Hovenden
Biogeochemistry 2020 v.147 no.1 pp. 99-107
C3 plants, C4 plants, air temperature, carbon dioxide, carbon sinks, climate change, climatic factors, grasses, grasslands, isotope labeling, mineralization, nitrification, nitrogen, nitrogen cycle, soil, stable isotopes, terrestrial ecosystems
Increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂) and global air temperature affect all terrestrial ecosystems and often lead to enhanced ecosystem productivity, which in turn dampens the rise in atmospheric CO₂ by removing CO₂ from the atmosphere. As most terrestrial ecosystems are limited in their productivity by the availability of nitrogen (N), there is concern about the persistence of this terrestrial carbon sink, as these ecosystems might develop a progressive N limitation (PNL). An increase in the gross soil N turnover may alleviate PNL, as more mineral N is made available for plant uptake. So far, climate change experiments have mainly manipulated one climatic factor only, but there is evidence that single-factor experiments usually overestimate the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems. In this study, we investigated how simultaneous, decadal-long increases in CO₂ and temperature affect the soil gross N dynamics in a native Tasmanian grassland under C3 and C4 vegetation. Our laboratory ¹⁵N labeling experiment showed that average gross N mineralization ranged from 4.9 to 11.3 µg N g⁻¹ day⁻¹ across the treatment combinations, while gross nitrification was about ten-times lower. Considering all treatment combinations, no significant effect of climatic treatments or vegetation type (C3 versus C4 grasses) on soil N cycling was observed.