On the spatial pattern of soil nutrients in desert ecosystems

TitleOn the spatial pattern of soil nutrients in desert ecosystems
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsSchlesinger W.H, Raikes JA, Hartley AE, Cross AF
Date Published1996
Accession NumberJRN00213
Call Number00659
KeywordsArtemisia, nitrogen cycling, Artemisia, soil heterogeneity, article, articles, Bouteloua, nitrogen cycling, Bouteloua, soil heterogeneity, Bromus, nitrogen cycling, Bromus, soil heterogeneity, geostatistics, Great Basin Desert, Bouteloua community, Great Basin Desert, Larrea community, journal, journals, Larrea, nitrogen cycling, Larrea, soil heterogeneity, Mojave Desert, Larrea community, nitrogen cycling, phosphorous, soil heterogeneity, soil nutrients, soil, nitrogen, soil, phosphorus

We examined the spatial distribution of soil nutrients in desert ecosystems of the southwestern United States to test the hypothesis that the invasion of semiarid grasslands by desert shrubs is associated with the development of "islands of fertility" under shrubs. In grasslands of the Chihuahuan Desert of New Mexico, 35-76% of the variation in soil N was found at distances <20 cm, which may be due to local accumulations of soil N under Bouteloua eriopoda, a perennial bunchgrass. The remaining variance is found over distances extending to 7 m, which is unlikely to be related to nutrient cycling by grasses. In adjacent shrublands, in which Larrea tridentata has replaced these grasses over the last century, soil N is more concentrated under shrubs and autocorrelated over distances extending 1.0-3.0 m, similar to mean shrub size and reflecting local nutrient cycling by shrubs. A similar pattern was seen in the shrublands of the Mojave Desert of California. Soil PO4, Cl, SO4, and K also accumulate under desert shrubs, whereas Rb, Na, Li, Ca, Mg. and Sr are usually more concentrated in the intershrub spaces. Changes in the distribution of soil properties may be a useful index of desertification in arid and semiarid grasslands worldwide.