Soil microbial responses to nitrogen addition in arid ecosystems.
The N cycle of arid ecosystems is influenced by low soil organic matter, high soil pH, and extremes in water potential and temperature that lead to open canopies and development of biological soil crusts (biocrusts). We investigated the effects of N amendment on soil microbial dynamics in a Larrea tridentata-Ambrosia dumosa shrubland site in southern Nevada USA. Sites were fertilized with a NO3-NH4 mix at 0, 7, and 15 kg N ha(-1) y(-1) from March 2012 to March 2013. In March 2013, biocrust (0-0.5 cm) and bulk soils (0-10 cm) were collected beneath Ambrosia canopies and in the interspaces between plants. Biomass responses were assessed as bacterial and fungal SSU rRNA gene copy number and chlorophyll a concentration. Metabolic responses were measured by five ecoenzyme activities and rates of N transformation. By most measures, nutrient availability, microbial biomass, and process rates were greater in soils beneath the shrub canopy compared to the interspace between plants, and greater in the surface biocrust horizon compared to the deeper 10 cm soil profile. Most measures responded positively to experimental N addition. Effect sizes were generally greater for bulk soil than biocrust. Results were incorporated into a meta-analysis of arid ecosystem responses to N amendment that included data from 14 other studies. Effect sizes were calculated for biomass and metabolic responses. Regressions of effect sizes, calculated for biomass, and metabolic responses, showed similar trends in relation to N application rate and N load (rate × duration). The critical points separating positive from negative treatment effects were 88 kg ha(-1) y(-1) and 159 kg ha(-1), respectively, for biomass, and 70 kg ha(-1) y(-1) and 114 kg ha(-1), respectively, for metabolism. These critical values are comparable to those for microbial biomass, decomposition rates and respiration reported in broader meta-analyses of N amendment effects in mesic ecosystems. However, large effect sizes at low N addition rates indicate that arid ecosystems are sensitive to modest increments in anthropogenic N deposition.DOI: 10.3389/fmicb.2015.00819