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Oecologia. 2005 Aug;145(1):113-22. Epub 2005 Jul 8.

Plant N capture from pulses: effects of pulse size, growth rate, and other soil resources.

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  • 1Department of Land, Air, and Water Resources, University of California, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616-8627, USA.


In arid ecosystems, the ability to rapidly capture nitrogen (N) from brief pulses is expected to influence plant growth, survival, and competitive ability. Theory and data suggest that N capture from pulses should depend on plant growth rate and availability of other limiting resources. Theory also predicts trade-offs in plant stress tolerance and ability to capture N from different size pulses. We injected K15NO3, to simulate small and large N pulses at three different times during the growing season into soil around the co-dominant Great Basin species Sarcobatus vermiculatus, Chrysothamnus nauseosus ssp. consimilis, and Distichlis spicata. Soils were amended with water and P in a partial factorial design. As predicted, all study species showed a comparable decline in N capture from large pulses through the season as growth rates slowed. Surprisingly, however, water and P availability differentially influenced the ability of these species to capture N from pulses. Distichlis N capture increased up to tenfold with water addition while Chrysothamnus N capture increased up to threefold with P addition. Sarcobatus N capture was not affected by water or P availability. Opposite to our prediction, Sarcobatus, the most stress tolerant species, captured less N from small pulses but more N from large pulses relative to the other species. These observations suggest that variation in N pulse timing and size can interact with variable soil water and P supply to determine how N is partitioned among co-existing Great Basin species.

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