Plants and biological soil crusts modulate the dominance of N forms in a semi-arid grassland

Manuel Delgado-Baquerizo, Andrea P. Castillo-Monroy, Fernando T. Maestre, Antonio Gallardo*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


It has been suggested that the dominance of N forms should shift from dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) to nitrate along a gradient of increasing N availability. We aimed to apply this model at a local scale within a semi-arid ecosystem showing a high spatial heterogeneity in the distribution of vegetation and soil resources. By doing this, we seek a better understanding of the N cycling in spatially heterogeneous ecosystems. We took soil samples from the three major sources of spatial heterogeneity: the grass Stipa tenacíssima, the N-fixing shrub Retama sphaerocarpa, and open areas. We also sampled the biological soil crust (BSC) located in the latter areas as another source of spatial heterogeneity. BSC microsites were classified by four levels of soil coverage, ranging from high coverage (66%) to bare soil. The proportion of nitrate, ammonium and DON was determined in all microsites. DON was the dominant N form for open areas, while nitrate was dominant under the canopy of Retama; these microsites contained the lowest and highest N availability, respectively. Under BSC, DON was the dominant N form. We found high temporal variability in the dominance of N forms for all microsites. Our results suggest that the biome-derived model of Schimel and Bennett (2004) explaining N form dominance across N availability gradients may be extended to local gradients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)376-378
Number of pages3
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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