Contrasting Soil Nitrogen Dynamics Across a Montane Meadow and Urban Lawn in a Semi-Arid Watershed

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Urban Ecosystems






Springer Verlag

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Urbanization substantially increases nitrogen (N) inputs and hydrologic losses relative to wildland ecosystems, although the fate of N additions to lawns and remnant grasslands remains contested. In montane semi-arid ecosystems, N cycling is often closely coupled to snowmelt (the dominant period of infiltration) and snow cover, which impact soil temperature and moisture. Here, we compared soil N dynamics between a fertilized and irrigated urban lawn and nearby riparian meadow in Salt Lake City, Utah during a snow manipulation experiment. Snow removal increased freeze/thaw events but did not affect N pools, microbial biomass, denitrification potential, or soil oxygen (O2). Mineral N was similar between sites despite lawn fertilization, but dissolved organic N (DON) was four-fold greater (2.1 ± 0.1 mg N l−1) in lawn soil water. Infiltration was lower in the lawn subsoil, and leaching losses (modeled with Hydrus) were small at both sites (< 2 kg N ha−1 y−1) despite substantial lawn fertilization. Lawn soil O2 fluctuated between 20.9 and 1.6 % following snowmelt and irrigation, but remained near 20 % in the meadow; the lawn had more reducing microsites as indicated by iron speciation. Post-snowmelt potential denitrification was six-fold greater in the lawn than the meadow. Lawns can potentially provide hotspots of denitrification in a semi-arid landscape that exceed some natural riparian ecosystems, whereas DON may represent an increasingly important form of N loss from lawns.

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