N-15 isoscapes in a subtropical savanna parkland: spatial-temporal perspectives Academic Article uri icon


  • Spatial patterns of soil 15N reflect variation in rates of N-cycling processes across landscapes. However, the manner in which soil 15N is affected by vegetation and topoedaphic properties under nonsteady state conditions is understood poorly. Here we propose and evaluate a conceptual model that explains how soil 15N values will respond to changes in disturbance regimes (intensification of grazing and removal of fire) and the resultant invasion of a subtropical grassland by woody vegetation dominated by Prosopis glandulosa (honey mesquite), a N-fixing tree legume. Spatially-specific sampling along a catena (hill-slope) gradient where woody plants are known to have displaced grasses over the past 100 years revealed a positive relationship between soil 15N and 13C, and a negative relationship between NDVI and soil 15N on upland portions of the landscape, indicating that plant cover is a critical determinant of 15N spatial patterns. Because the dominant woody invader is a N-fixer, its invasion has increased N input and reduced soil 15N. However, while honey mesquite also invaded and came to dominate lowland portions of the landscape, soil 15N values in woodlands of intermittent drainages were significantly elevated relative to those in uplands. This is likely attributable to higher soil moisture, clay content, and total N in the lower portions of the catena gradient, which create conditions favoring more rapid Ntransformation rates, higher preferential 14N losses (e.g., gaseous), and thus enrichment of 15N. Thus, while spatial and temporal variation of soil 15N has the potential to be an indicator of disturbance-induced changes in the net N balance, its sensitivity is compromised in topoedaphic settings with where rates of Ntransformation are high. Continued improvements in our understanding of controls over the spatial variability of soil 15N at the landscape-scale will enhance our ability to use 15N as a diagnostic tool for inferring N dynamics under both steady-state and disturbed conditions. 2013 Bai et al.

published proceedings


altmetric score

  • 0.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Bai, E., Boutton, T. W., Liu, F., Wu, X. B., & Archer, S. R.

citation count

  • 30

complete list of authors

  • Bai, Edith||Boutton, Thomas W||Liu, Feng||Wu, X Ben||Archer, Steven R

publication date

  • January 2013