From: Krishna Ramanujan, Cornell Chronicle
Published November 9, 2009 04:38 PM

Heat-Related Nitrogen Loss Endangers Desert Plant Life

As the climate gets warmer, arid soils lose nitrogen as gas, reports a new Cornell study. This could lead to deserts with even less plant life than they sustain today, say the researchers.

"This is a way that nitrogen is lost from an ecosystem that people have never accounted for before," said Jed Sparks, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and co-author of the study, published in the Nov. 6 issue of Science. "It allows us to finally understand the dynamics of nitrogen in arid systems"

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Available nitrogen is second only to water as the biggest constraint to biological activity in arid ecosystems, but before now, ecologists struggled to understand how the inputs and outputs of nitrogen in deserts balance.

By showing that the higher temperatures cause nitrogen to escape as gas from desert soils, the Cornell researchers have balanced the nitrogen budget in deserts. They stress that most climate change models need to be altered to consider these findings.

Article continues: http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Nov09/SparksDeserts.kr.html

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