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Keywords:

  • apparent Q10;
  • Boston-Area Climate Experiment;
  • climate change;
  • multifactor experiment;
  • nitrogen cycling;
  • old-field community

Abstract

Shifts in nitrogen (N) mineralization and nitrification rates due to global changes can influence nutrient availability, which can affect terrestrial productivity and climate change feedbacks. While many single-factor studies have examined the effects of environmental changes on N mineralization and nitrification, few have examined these effects in a multifactor context or recorded how these effects vary seasonally. In an old-field ecosystem in Massachusetts, USA, we investigated the combined effects of four levels of warming (up to 4 °C) and three levels of precipitation (drought, ambient, and wet) on net N mineralization, net nitrification, and potential nitrification. We also examined the treatment effects on the temperature sensitivity of net N mineralization and net nitrification and on the ratio of C mineralization to net N mineralization. During winter, freeze–thaw events, snow depth, and soil freezing depth explained little of the variation in net nitrification and N mineralization rates among treatments. During two years of treatments, warming and altered precipitation rarely influenced the rates of N cycling, and there was no evidence of a seasonal pattern in the responses. In contrast, warming and drought dramatically decreased the apparent Q10 of net N mineralization and net nitrification, and the warming-induced decrease in apparent Q10 was more pronounced in ambient and wet treatments than the drought treatment. The ratio of C mineralization to net N mineralization varied over time and was sensitive to the interactive effects of warming and altered precipitation. Although many studies have found that warming tends to accelerate N cycling, our results suggest that warming can have little to no effect on N cycling in some ecosystems. Thus, ecosystem models that assume that warming will consistently increase N mineralization rates and inputs of plant-available N may overestimate the increase in terrestrial productivity and the magnitude of an important negative feedback to climate change.