Do increased summer precipitation and N deposition alter fine root dynamics in a Mojave Desert ecosystem?


Correspondence: Paul S. J. Verburg, tel. +1 775 673 7425, fax +1 775 673 7485, e-mail:


Climate change is expected to impact the amount and distribution of precipitation in the arid southwestern United States. In addition, nitrogen (N) deposition is increasing in these regions due to increased urbanization. Responses of belowground plant activity to increases in soil water content and N have shown inconsistent patterns between biomes. In arid lands, plant productivity is limited by water and N availability so it is expected that changes in these factors will affect fine root dynamics. The objectives of this study were to quantify the effects of increased summer precipitation and N deposition on fine root dynamics in a Mojave Desert ecosystem during a 2-year field experiment using minirhizotron measurements. Root length density, production, and mortality were measured in field plots in the Mojave Desert receiving three 25 mm summer rain events and/or 40 kg N ha−1 yr−1. Increased summer precipitation and N additions did not have an overall significant effect on any of the measured root parameters. However, differences in winter precipitation resulting from interannual variability in rainfall appeared to affect root parameters with root production and turnover increasing following a wet winter most likely due to stimulation of annual grasses. In addition, roots were distributed more deeply in the soil following the wet winter. Root length density was initially higher under canopies compared to canopy interspaces, but converged toward the end of the study. In addition, roots tended to be distributed more deeply into the soil in canopy interspace areas. Results from this study indicated that increased summer precipitation and N deposition in response to climate change and urbanization are not likely to affect fine root dynamics in these Mojave Desert ecosystems, despite studies showing aboveground plant physiological responses to these environmental perturbations. However, changes in the amount and possibly distribution of winter precipitation may affect fine root dynamics.