MESQUITE (Prosopis) trees growing in the rainless region of the Atacama Desert produce leaves that abscise and accumulate on a concrete-like carbonate surface, often attaining litter depths of 45 cm. The virtual lack of surface moisture inhibits leaf decomposi-tion, and prevents cycling of nitrogen, the mineral most often limiting plant growth. Leaves in the midpoint of a litter profile were aged to pre-bomb dates (older than 1950) and had both high nitrogen concentrations and a carbon to nitrogen ratio comparable to that of live leaves. The thick carbonate layer prevents root growth into the litter. Prosopis appear to persist by having roots that fix nitrogen in moist subsurface layers and by extracting water and other nutrients from ground water, allowing plants to persist in an ecosystem in which there is no nitrogen cycling.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Fritz, P., Suzuki, O., Silva, C. & Salati, E. J. Hydrol. 43, 161–184 (1981).
Rundel, P. A. et al. Aliso 13, 1–49 (1991).
Mooney, H. A., Gulmon, S. L. Rundel, P. W. & Ehleringer, J. R. Ocecologia 46, 63–67 (1980).
Aravena, R., & Acevedo, E. in The Current State of Knowledge on Prosopis tamarugo (ed. Habit, M. A.) 251–256 (FAO, Santiago, 1985).
Margowitz, M., Aravena, R., Peña, H. Suzuki, O. & Grilli, A. Ground Water 28, 513–517 (1990).
Alexander, G. V. & McAnulty, L. T. J. Pl. Nutr. 3, 51–59 (1981).
Geyh, M. A. & Schleicher, H. Absolute Age Determination: Physical and Chemical Dating Methods and Their Application (Springer, Heidelberg, 1990).
Aguirre, J. J. & Wran, J. in The Current State of Knowledge on Prosopis tamarugo (ed. Habit, M. A.) 3–31 (FAO, Santiago, 1985).
Shearer, G. & Kohl, D. in Stable Isotopes in Ecological Research (eds Rundel, P. W., Ehleringer. J. R. & Nagy, K. A.) 342–374 (Springer, New York, 1988).
Proksch, G. Pl. Soil 31, 380–384 (1969).
Minagawa, M., Winter, D. A. & Kaplan, I. R. Analyt. Chem. 56, 1859–1861 (1984).
Nadelhoffer, K. J. & Fry, B. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. 52, 1633–1640 (1988).
Dingman, R. J. U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1219 (Washington DC, 1967).
About this article
Cite this article
Ehleringer, J., Mooney, H., Rundel, P. et al. Lack of nitrogen cycling in the Atacama Desert. Nature 359, 316–318 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1038/359316a0
Reconstructing continental‐scale variation in soil δ 15 N: a machine learning approach in South America
Earth System Science Data (2020)
Marine resource reliance in the human populations of the Atacama Desert, northern Chile – A view from prehistory
Quaternary Science Reviews (2018)
Export of nitrogenous compounds due to incomplete cycling within biological soil crusts of arid lands
Environmental Microbiology (2007)
Journal of Geophysical Research (2007)