Plant diversity, CO2, and N influence inorganic and organic N leaching in grasslands. Academic Article uri icon


  • In nitrogen (N)-limited systems, the potential to sequester carbon depends on the balance between N inputs and losses as well as on how efficiently N is used, yet little is known about responses of these processes to changes in plant species richness, atmospheric CO2 concentration ([CO2]), and N deposition. We examined how plant species richness (1 or 16 species), elevated [CO2] (ambient or 560 ppm), and inorganic N addition (0 or 4 g x m(-2) x yr(-1)) affected ecosystem N losses, specifically leaching of dissolved inorganic N (DIN) and organic N (DON) in a grassland field experiment in Minnesota, USA. We observed greater DIN leaching below 60 cm soil depth in the monoculture plots (on average 1.8 and 3.1 g N x m(-2) x yr(-1) for ambient N and N-fertilized plots respectively) than in the 16-species plots (0.2 g N x m(-2) x yr(-1) for both ambient N and N-fertilized plots), particularly when inorganic N was added. Most likely, loss of complementary resource use and reduced biological N demand in the monoculture plots caused the increase in DIN leaching relative to the high-diversity plots. Elevated [CO2] reduced DIN concentrations under conditions when DIN concentrations were high (i.e., in N-fertilized and monoculture plots). Contrary to the results for DIN, DON leaching was greater in the 16-species plots than in the monoculture plots (on average 0.4 g N x m(-2) x yr(-1) in 16-species plots and 0.2 g N x m(-2) x yr(-1) in monoculture plots). In fact, DON dominated N leaching in the 16-species plots (64% of total N leaching as DON), suggesting that, even with high biological demand for N, substantial amounts of N can be lost as DON. We found no significant main effects of elevated [CO2] on DIN or DON leaching; however, elevated [CO2] reduced the positive effect of inorganic N addition on DON leaching, especially during the second year of observation. Our results suggest that plant species richness, elevated [CO2], and N deposition alter DIN loss primarily through changes in biological N demand. DON losses can be as large as DIN loss but are more sensitive to organic matter production and turnover.

published proceedings

  • Ecology

author list (cited authors)

  • Dijkstra, F. A., West, J. B., Hobbie, S. E., Reich, P. B., & Trost, J.

citation count

  • 54

complete list of authors

  • Dijkstra, Feike A||West, Jason B||Hobbie, Sarah E||Reich, Peter B||Trost, Jared

publication date

  • February 2007