Plant effects on nitrogen retention in shortgrass steppe 2 years after N-15 addition

Publication Type:

Journal Article


OECOLOGIA, SPRINGER-VERLAG, Volume 128, Number 3, 175 FIFTH AVE, NEW YORK, NY 10010 USA, p.422-430 (2001)


C-3 vs. C-4 photosynthetic pathway, grazing, N-15 labeling, nitrogen retention, shortgrass steppe


Ecosystems where plant-available nitrogen (N) is limited by constraints on decomposition may be quite capable of retaining additional N. However, there are many factors that will control the quantity of N retained, with potential implications for system carbon and nitrogen storage. We examined the retention and allocation of N-15 2 Years after labeling a semiarid, shortgrass steppe ecosystem in northeastern Colorado. The plant community of the study area is a patchy mixture of C-3 (cool-season) and C-4, (warm-season) graminoids; we hypothesized that differences in allocation patterns between the two plant types would lead to differing rates of N retention in this grazed system. We found that after three growing seasons (just over 2 years), an average of 28.3% of the original N-15 was retained in our plots, with nearly all of this N in soils (24.9%) rather than plants. Plots dominated by C-3 plants had significantly less N-15 retained after 2 years than mixed C-3-C-4 plots. A high initial rate of retention by C-3 plants, combined with a propensity for allocation to shoots rather than roots, likely led to this result in a system that typically has much of its above-ground tissue removed by grazers. In comparing our retention patterns to those of other studies in the shortgrass steppe, we found that the distribution of added N-15 to various ecosystem compartments (plants, mineral soil, soil organic matter) was similar across studies regardless of the experimental conditions, duration of study, and amount of (15)Nretained. We additionally observed the beginning of the formation of ``resource islands.'' with N-15 being physically and biologically redistributed under plants from between plants.