Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Wildland Resources

Department name when degree awarded

Range Science

Committee Chair(s)

Martyn M. Caldwell


Martyn M. Caldwell


The nitrogen budgets of Eurotia lanata (Pursh.) Moq. and Atriplex confertifolia (Torr. and Frem.) S. Wats salt desert shrub plant communities were investigated. In each, a complete biomass and organic nitrogen inventory was made. In addition, investigations of the nitrogen fixation potential of soil surface microflora and inorganic soil nitrogen relationships were carried out.

Greater total biomass and organic nitrogen was found in the above-ground portions, annual shoot productivity, and litter of the Atriplex community. However, the Atriplex community was exceeded by the Eurotia community in root biomass. Roots accounted for 74 and 87 percent of the plant biomass and 83 and 90 percent of the associated organic nitrogen in Eurotia and Atriplex communities respectively. Root biomass distribution at various depths was markedly different in the two communities. Differences between communities in relative amounts of various plant parts and litter are related to contrasting plant growth habit, and differences in soil texture and soil salinity. Total plant biomass estimates, which were 18,480 and 17,300 kilograms per hectare for Eurotia and Atriplex communities, were not significantly different and reflect the overriding influence of macroclimate and associated moisture limitation.

Under laboratory conditions the soil surface microflora of the Atriplex community was able to fix significant amounts of atmospheric nitrogen while that of the Eurotia community did not. Nitrogen fixation potential in the Atriplex community was associated with the presence of abundant lichen cover and associated heterocvstcontaining blue-green algae of lichen interspaces.

Differences between communities were found in rates of mineralization, downward flux, and pattern of utilization of inorganic soil nitrogen. Soil salinity appeared to strongly limit inorganic soil nitrogen mineralization as well as root growth and nitrogen uptake in the lower part of the Atriplex soil profile; however, this lack of biological activity was compensated for by a greater downward flux of inorganic soil nitrogen from decomposing litter and surface soil in the Atriplex community. Shoot and root litter appears to be the most readily available source of inorganic soil nitrogen for plant growth in salt desert shrub plant communities.