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Nitrogen limitation of microbial decomposition in a grassland under elevated CO2

Nature volume 409, pages 188191 (11 January 2001) | Download Citation

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Abstract

Carbon accumulation in the terrestrial biosphere could partially offset the effects of anthropogenic CO2 emissions on atmospheric CO 2 (refs 1, 2). The net impact of increased CO2 on the carbon balance of terrestrial ecosystems is unclear, however, because elevated CO2 effects on carbon input to soils and plant use of water and nutrients often have contrasting effects on microbial processes3,4,5. Here we show suppression of microbial decomposition in an annual grassland after continuous exposure to increased CO2 for five growing seasons. The increased CO 2 enhanced plant nitrogen uptake, microbial biomass carbon, and available carbon for microbes. But it reduced available soil nitrogen, exacerbated nitrogen constraints on microbes, and reduced microbial respiration per unit biomass. These results indicate that increased CO2 can alter the interaction between plants and microbes in favour of plant utilization of nitrogen, thereby slowing microbial decomposition and increasing ecosystem carbon accumulation.

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Acknowledgements

We thank H. A. Mooney, C. Lund and B. A. Hungate for contributing to the design and execution of the field experiment, H. L. Zhong for 15N measurements, and P. Brooks for assistance with 13C measurements. The Jasper Ridge CO2 experiment was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation to the Carnegie Institution of Washington, the University of California, Berkeley, and Stanford University. S.H. was supported by the US NSF under a fellowship awarded in 1996.

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Author notes

    • S. Hu
    •  & F. S. Chapin III

    Present address: Department of Plant Pathology, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695, USA (S.H.); Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA (F.S.C.).

Affiliations

  1. *Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • S. Hu
    •  & F. S. Chapin III
  2. ‡Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA

    • M. K. Firestone
  3. §Carnegie Institution of Washington, Department of Plant Biology, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • C. B. Field
    •  & N. R. Chiariello

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https://doi.org/10.1038/35051576

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