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Warming prevents the elevated CO2-induced reduction in available soil nitrogen in a temperate, perennial grassland


Mark J. Hovenden, tel. +61 3 6226 7874, fax +61 3 6226 2698, e-mail:


Rising atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration ([CO2]) has the potential to stimulate ecosystem productivity and sink strength, reducing the effects of carbon (C) emissions on climate. In terrestrial ecosystems, increasing [CO2] can reduce soil nitrogen (N) availability to plants, preventing the stimulation of ecosystem C assimilation; a process known as progressive N limitation. Using ion exchange membranes to assess the availability of dissolved organic N, ammonium and nitrate, we found that CO2 enrichment in an Australian, temperate, perennial grassland did not increase plant productivity, but did reduce soil N availability, mostly by reducing nitrate availability. Importantly, the addition of 2 °C warming prevented this effect while warming without CO2 enrichment did not significantly affect N availability. These findings indicate that warming could play an important role in the impact of [CO2] on ecosystem N cycling, potentially overturning CO2-induced effects in some ecosystems.