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Nitrogen cycling in microcosms of yellow birch exposed to elevated CO2: simultaneous positive and negative below-ground feedbacks

Authors

  • G. M. BERNTSON,

    1. Harvard University, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Biological Laboratories, 16 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
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  • F. A. BAZZAZ

    1. Harvard University, Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Biological Laboratories, 16 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
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G.M. Berntson tel +1/617-496-4062, fax +1/617-496-5223berntson@oeb.harvard.edu

Abstract

This study investigated simultaneous plant and soil feedbacks on growth enhancement with elevated [CO2] within microcosms of yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.) in the second year of growth. Understanding the integrated responses of model ecosystems may provide key insight into the potential net nutrient feedbacks on [CO2] growth enhancements in temperate forests. We measured the net biomass production, C:N ratios, root architecture, and mycorrhizal responses of yellow birch, in situ rates gross nitrogen mineralization and the partitioning of available NH4+ between yellow birch and soil microbes. Elevated atmospheric [CO2] resulted in significant alterations in the cycling of N within the microcosms. Plant C/N ratios were significantly increased, gross mineralization and NH4+ consumption rates were decreased, and relative microbial uptake of NH4+ was increased, representing a suite of N cycling negative feedbacks on N availability. However, increased C/N ratios may also be a mechanism which allows plants to maintain higher growth with a constant or reduced N supply. Total plant N content was increased with elevated [CO2], suggesting that yellow birch had successfully increased their ability to acquire nutrients during the first year of growth. However, plant uptake rates of NH4+ had decreased in the second year. This discrepancy implies that, in this study, nitrogen uptake showed a trend through ontogeny of decreasing enhancement under elevated [CO2]. The reduced N mineralization and relatively increased N immobilization are a potential feedback which may drive this ontogenetic trend. This study has demonstrated the importance of using an integrated approach to exploring potential nutrient-cycling feedbacks in elevated [CO2].

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