Plant nitrogen concentration and isotopic composition in residential lawns across seven US cities

T. L.E. Trammell, D. E. Pataki, J. Cavender-Bares, P. M. Groffman, S. J. Hall, J. B. Heffernan, S. E. Hobbie, J. L. Morse, C. Neill, K. C. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Human drivers are often proposed to be stronger than biophysical drivers in influencing ecosystem structure and function in highly urbanized areas. In residential land cover, private yards are influenced by individual homeowner preferences and actions while also experiencing large-scale human and biophysical drivers. We studied plant nitrogen (%N) and N stable isotopic composition (δ15N) in residential yards and paired native ecosystems in seven cities across the US that span major ecological biomes and climatic regions: Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City. We found that residential lawns in three cities had enriched plant δ15N (P < 0.03) and in six cities higher plant N (%) relative to the associated native ecosystems (P < 0.05). Plant δ15N was progressively depleted across a gradient of urban density classes in Baltimore and Boston (P < 0.05). Lawn fertilization was associated with depleted plant δ15N in Boston and Los Angeles (P < 0.05), and organic fertilizer additions were associated with enriched plant δ15N in Los Angeles and Salt Lake City (P < 0.04). Plant δ15N was significantly enriched as a function of housing age in Baltimore (r2 = 0.27, P < 0.02), Boston (r2 = 0.27, P < 0.01), and Los Angeles (r2 = 0.34, P < 0.01). These patterns in plant δ15N and plant N (%) across these cities suggests that N sources to lawns, as well as greater rates of N cycling combined with subsequent N losses, may be important drivers of plant N dynamics in lawn ecosystems at the national scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-285
Number of pages15
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank Meghan Avolio, La’Shaye Ervin, William Borrowman, Moumita Kundu, and Barbara Uhl for field and laboratory assistance. This research was funded by a series of collaborative grants from the US National Science Foundation (EF-1065548, 1065737, 1065740, 1065741, 1065772, 1065785, 1065831, 121238320).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.


  • Ecological convergence
  • Natural abundance nitrogen stable isotopes
  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Urban ecology


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