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Ecology. 2010 Nov;91(11):3261-73.

Nitrogen regulation of the climate-carbon feedback: evidence from a long-term global change experiment.

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Department of Botany and Microbiology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma 73019, USA.


Modeling studies have shown that nitrogen (N) strongly regulates ecosystem responses and feedback to climate warming. However, it remains unclear what mechanisms underlie N regulation of ecosystem-climate interactions. To examine N regulation of ecosystem feedback to climate change, we have conducted a warming and clipping experiment since November 1999 in a tallgrass prairie of the Great Plains, USA. Infrared heaters were used to elevate soil temperature by an average of 1.96 degrees C at a depth of 2.5 cm from 2000 to 2008. Yearly biomass clipping mimicked hay or biofuel feedstock harvest. We measured carbon (C) and N concentrations, estimated their content and C:N ratio in plant, root, litter, and soil pools. Warming significantly stimulated C storage in aboveground plant, root, and litter pools by 17%, 38%, and 29%, respectively, averaged over the nine years (all P < 0.05) but did not change soil C content or N content in any pool. Plant C:N ratio and nitrogen use efficiency increased in the warmed plots compared to the control plots, resulting primarily from increased dominance of C4 plants in the community. Clipping significantly decreased C and N storage in plant and litter pools (all P < 0.05) but did not have interactive effects with warming on either C or N pools over the nine years. Our results suggest that increased ecosystem nitrogen use efficiency via a shift in species composition toward C4 dominance rather than plant N uptake is a key mechanism underlying warming stimulation of plant biomass growth.

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