Effects of plant species diversity, atmospheric [CO2], and N addition on gross rates of inorganic N release from soil organic matter

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A significant challenge in predicting terrestrial ecosystem response to global changes comes from the relatively poor understanding of the processes that control pools and fluxes of plant nutrients in soil. In addition, individual global changes are often studied in isolation, despite the potential for interactive effects among them on ecosystem processes. We studied the response of gross N mineralization and microbial respiration after 6 years of application of three global change factors in a grassland field experiment in central Minnesota (the BioCON experiment). BioCON is a factorial manipulation of plant species diversity (1, 4, 9 and 16 prairie species), atmospheric [CO2] (ambient and elevated: 560 μmol mol-1), and N inputs (ambient and ambient +4 g N m-2 yr-1). We hypothesized that gross N mineralization would increase with increasing levels of all factors because of stimulated plant productivity and thus greater organic inputs to soils. However, we also hypothesized that N addition would enhance, while elevated [CO2] and greater diversity would temper, gross N mineralization responses because of increased and reduced plant tissue N concentrations, respectively. In partial support of our hypothesis, gross N mineralization increased with greater diversity and N addition, but not with elevated [CO2]. The ratio of gross N mineralization to microbial respiration (i.e. the 'yield' of inorganic N mineralized per unit C respired) declined with greater diversity and [CO2] suggesting increasing limitation of microbial processes by N relative to C in these treatments. Based on these results, we conclude that the plant supply of organic matter primarily controls gross N mineralization and microbial respiration, but that the concentration of N in organic matter input secondarily influences these processes. Thus, in systems where N limits plant productivity these global change factors could cause different long-term ecosystem trajectories because of divergent effects on soil N and C cycling.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1400-1408
Number of pages9
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2006


  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide
  • Carbon mineralization
  • Diversity
  • Global change
  • Gross nitrogen mineralization
  • Microbial respiration
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Nitrogen limitation
  • Soil element cycling
  • Soil organic matter


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