Factors Controlling Denitrification in a Chihuahuan Desert Ecosystem
- William T. Peterjohn and
- William H. Schlesinger
Denitrification may be an important pathway for N loss from desert ecosystems. Few studies, however, have investigated the factors limiting this process in a desert environment. A factorial experiment was conducted to determine the factors controlling denitrification in the northern Chihuahuan Desert. Specifically, we measured the response of denitrification to additions of water, C, N, and C + N. Soil cores were collected from four vegetation zones along an alluvial piedmont. Dry cores were subjected to five treatments: (i) water; (ii) water + NO3; (iii) water + C; (iv) water + NO3 + C; and (v) a control (no additions). When denitrification rates were averaged across vegetation zones and patch types (between or under vegetation), the following treatment effects were significantly different: water + NO3 + C > > > water + NO3 = water » water + C > control. These results indicate that denitrification at this site is limited by the availability of water. In wet soil cores, C additions immobilized available NO3 and suppressed denitrification. When water + NO3 + C was added (C/N = 22), however, denitrification was significantly greater than when water + NO3 were added. This result indicates that C and N interact to control denitrification in wet desert soils. No evidence for an overall NO3 limitation in moist cores was found. Surprisingly, denitrification rates in wet cores of nutrient-poor desert soils (≈32.9 ng N cm−2 h−1) were similar to those measured in the nutrient-rich soils of temperate and tropical forests. When extrapolated to an annual rate, denitrification for this site is 7.22 kg N ha−1 yr−1. Extreme drying-wetting cycles common in desert ecosystems may account for the high rates observed.Please view the pdf by using the Full Text (PDF) link under 'View' to the left.
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