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Nitrogen Limitation of Production and Decomposition in Prairie, Mountain Meadow, and Pine Forest

H. W. Hunt, E. R. Ingham, D. C. Coleman, E. T. Elliott and C. P. P. Reid
Ecology
Vol. 69, No. 4 (Aug., 1988), pp. 1009-1016
Published by: Wiley
DOI: 10.2307/1941256
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1941256
Page Count: 8
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Nitrogen Limitation of Production and Decomposition in Prairie, Mountain Meadow, and Pine Forest
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Abstract

The responses of decomposition and primary production to nitrogen supply were investigated in a shortgrass prairie, a mountain meadow, and a lodgepole pine forest. Nitrogen (N) supply was increased by applying ammonium nitrate, or decreased by applying sucrose. The litterbag technique was used to follow decomposition of leaves of the dominant plants: blue grama (Bouteloua gracilis) from the prairie, western wheatgrass (Agropyron smithii) from the meadow, and lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta) from the forest. Soil from beneath the litterbags was sampled at the time of litterbag retrieval in order to detect interactions between decomposition and properties of the underlying soil. There was no consistent effect of soil properties on decomposition rate, but there was a significant effect of litter type on N mineralization in the underlying soil. Decomposition was fastest in the forest, intermediate in the prairie, and slowest in the meadow. Blue grama decomposed faster than the other litters. Each litter type decomposed faster than expected when placed in its ecosystem of origin. This interaction suggests that decomposers in an ecosystem are adapted to the most prevalent types of litter. Nitrogen supply had a small but significant effect on decomposition rate. Within an ecosystem, there was a positive association between decomposition and accumulation of N within the litter, but this relationship was reversed when comparing across ecosystems, possibly because of the overriding effects of differences among ecosystems in abiotic factors. Aboveground net primary production was estimated in the grasslands by a single harvest at the end of the growing season, and growth increment of boles was measured in the forest. These indices of primary production showed a greater relative response to N fertilization than did decomposition, suggesting that primary production is the more N-limited process.

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