• Effects of Nitrogen Deposition on an Arid Grassland in the Colorado Plateau Cold Desert

      Schwinning, Susanne; Starr, Benjamin I.; Wojcik, Nathan J.; Miller, Mark E.; Ehleringer, James E.; Sanford, Robert L. (Society for Range Management, 2006-11-01)
      Historically, ecosystems in the southwestern United States derived much of their nitrogen (N) from N-fixation in biological soil crusts. Today, these regions have highly reduced crust cover, and atmospheric deposition may be the dominant source of N. This study investigates the effects of increased nitrogen deposition on nitrogen uptake, photosynthesis, and growth of the two main forage grasses on the Colorado Plateau, galleta (Hilaria jamesii [Torr.] Benth.) and Indian ricegrass (Oryzopsis hymenoides, [Roemer J.S. Schultes] Ricker ex Piper). Plots were fertilized for 2 years with 0, 10, 20, and 40 kg nitrogen ha-1 annually, up to 43 the estimated current annual deposition rate, in 2 applications per year (spring and summer). Half-plots were fertilized with either (NH4)2SO4 in KCl solution or with KNO3 solution to determine possible differences in the effects of NH4+ and NO3 in this system. Neither grass increased leaf photosynthesis or tiller size due to supplemental N. Galleta also did not increase tiller density, while estimated live tiller density in Indian ricegrass increased up to 50% in the second year. Nitrogen applications accelerated the onset of water stress in both species presumably through stimulating ecosystem transpiration. Nitrogen form did not significantly affect any aspect of grass physiological performance or growth. However, leaf nitrogen in NH4+/-fertilized plants was significantly more isotopically enriched than in NO3-fertilized plants, suggesting that both species incorporated NH4-N only after it had been enriched by soil turnover. Seedlings of Russian Thistle (Salsola iberica, Sennen Pau), a noxious annual invasive weed on western rangelands, grew rapidly in the first summer on plots with 40 kg nitrogen ha-1 per annum, and more so on plots fertilized with NO3 than with NH4+. The study suggests that changes in the timing and amount of nitrogen input may alter community composition through facilitating the invasions of summer-active noxious weeds.