Increased rainfall variability and N addition accelerate litter decomposition in a restored prairie

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20 Scopus citations


Anthropogenic nitrogen deposition and projected increases in rainfall variability (the frequency of drought and heavy rainfall events) are expected to strongly influence ecosystem processes such as litter decomposition. However, how these two global change factors interact to influence litter decomposition is largely unknown. I examined how increased rainfall variability and nitrogen addition affected mass and nitrogen loss of litter from two tallgrass prairie species, Schizachyrium scoparium and Solidago canadensis, and isolated the effects of each during plant growth and during litter decomposition. I increased rainfall variability by consolidating ambient rainfall into larger events and simulated chronic nitrogen deposition using a slow-release urea fertilizer. S. scoparium litter decay was more strongly regulated by the treatments applied during plant growth than by those applied during decomposition. During plant growth, increased rainfall variability resulted in S. scoparium litter that subsequently decomposed more slowly and immobilized more nitrogen than litter grown under ambient conditions, whereas nitrogen addition during plant growth accelerated subsequent mass loss of S. scoparium litter. In contrast, S. canadensis litter mass and N losses were enhanced under either N addition or increased rainfall variability both during plant growth and during decomposition. These results suggest that ongoing changes in rainfall variability and nitrogen availability are accelerating nutrient cycling in tallgrass prairies through their combined effects on litter quality, environmental conditions, and plant community composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)645-655
Number of pages11
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
I thank Jeffrey S. Dukes for editorial comments, Nicholas Smith for his role in the PRICLE project, as well as Alan Clinton, Raj Lal, and Alejandro Salazar for field assistance. The PRICLE project was supported by the Purdue Climate Change Research Center (PCCRC). I was supported by USDA Agro-ecosystem Services National Need Fellowship.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Climate change
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Precipitation
  • Schizachyrium scoparium
  • Solidago canadensis


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