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Biological invasion alters regional nitrogen-oxide emissions from tropical rainforests


Sharon J. Hall, tel. +1 480 965 5650, fax +1 480 965 6899, e-mail:


We explored whether the invasion of an exotic, nitrogen (N) fixing tree into native Hawaiian tropical forests has altered regional emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O) and nitric oxide (NO), two atmospherically important trace gases produced by microorganisms in soils. Ecosystem processes, including nitrification and N-oxide emissions, were not affected by Morella faya (formerly Myrica faya) invasion until it dominated the community with few native species in the overstory or understory. Remote-sensing estimates of upper-canopy leaf N concentration were strongly correlated to N-oxide emissions in ecosystems at the mesic-wet end of a precipitation gradient, where temperatures are warm, relatively constant, and N limits biological processes. In contrast, remotely sensed and field-based canopy chemistry was not related to N-oxide emissions in dry forest ecosystems where the seasonality of temperature and moisture exerted stronger control over soil gas fluxes. Thus, remote sensing of canopy N was useful for estimating the impact of M. faya on regional N-oxide emissions only in regions receiving >1800 mm rainfall annually. Our estimates of N-oxide emissions from M. faya are half as large and 35 times more precise than those made using traditional, plot-level methods of extrapolation. Over the 40 years since its first occurrence in wet forests of Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park, M. faya has increased N-oxide emissions 16-fold, with its effects most pronounced in summer and at the N-rich centers of dense, monospecific stands.