Investigating patterns of symbiotic nitrogen fixation during vegetation change from grassland to woodland using fine scale (15) N measurements. Academic Article uri icon


  • Biological nitrogen fixation (BNF) in woody plants is often investigated using foliar measurements of (15) N and is of particular interest in ecosystems experiencing increases in BNF due to woody plant encroachment. We sampled (15) N along the entire N uptake pathway including soil solution, xylem sap and foliage to (1) test assumptions inherent to the use of foliar (15) N as a proxy for BNF; (2) determine whether seasonal divergences occur between (15) Nxylem sap and (15) Nsoil inorganic N that could be used to infer variation in BNF; and (3) assess patterns of (15) N with tree age as indicators of shifting BNF or N cycling. Measurements of woody N-fixing Prosopis glandulosa and paired reference non-fixing Zanthoxylum fagara at three seasonal time points showed that (15) Nsoil inorganic N varied temporally and spatially between species. Fractionation between xylem and foliar (15) N was consistently opposite in direction between species and varied on average by 2.4. Accounting for these sources of variation caused percent nitrogen derived from fixation values for Prosopis to vary by up to 70%. Soil-xylem (15) N separation varied temporally and increased with Prosopis age, suggesting seasonal variation in N cycling and BNF and potential long-term increases in BNF not apparent through foliar sampling alone.

published proceedings

  • Plant Cell Environ

altmetric score

  • 1

author list (cited authors)

  • Soper, F. M., Boutton, T. W., & Sparks, J. P.

citation count

  • 21

complete list of authors

  • Soper, Fiona M||Boutton, Thomas W||Sparks, Jed P

publication date

  • January 2015