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Nitrogen deposition effects on coastal sage vegetation of southern CaliforniaAuthor(s): Edith B. Allen; Pamela E. Padgett; Andrzej Bytnerowicz; Richard Minnich
Source: In: Bytnerowicz, Andrzej; Arbaugh, Michael J.; Schilling, Susan L., tech. coords. Proceedings of the international symposium on air pollution and climate change effects on forest ecosystems. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-166. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station: 131-139
Publication Series: General Technical Report (GTR)
Station: Pacific Southwest Research Station
PDF: View PDF (420 KB)
DescriptionThe coastal sage scrub (CSS) vegetation of southern California has been declining in land area and in shrub density over the past 60 years or more, and is being replaced by Mediterranean annual grasses in many areas. Although much of this loss is attributable to agriculture, grazing, urbanization and frequent fire, even protected areas have experienced a loss in native shrub cover. Nitrogen (N) deposition has not previously been examined as a contributor to CSS decline, but up to 45 kg/ha/yr are deposited in the Los Angeles Air Basin. Several mechanisms were examined by which atmospheric N deposition might affect the shrubs and promote growth of weeds. Field nitrogen fertilization studies at sites of high and low deposition showed that most of the abundant native and introduced species had increased growth after fertilization in the low deposition site, but in a high deposition site only one weedy species, small-podded mustard (Brassica geniculata (Desf.) J. Ball), responded to N fertilization. Greenhouse studies showed that both shrubs and weeds had high plasticity in their growth response to N fertilizer, an unexpected result for the shrubs. Preliminary competition studies indicated there was no change in the relative competitive ability of the shrubs or grasses after fertilization. However, negative effects of high N have been detected on the growth and survival of the shrubs. Greenhouse grown California sagebrush (Artemisia californica Less.) began to senesce at 6 to 9 months when fertilized with 50 μg N/g soil. This soil N concentration corresponds to extractable N levels in polluted sites, while levels are typically less than 10 μg/g in unpolluted sites. Another source of damage to plants can be cuticular lesions caused by nitric acid, but how nitric acid affects CSS leaves is unknown. Fumigation of pine needles with high ambient levels of nitric acid caused cuticular lesions and stomatal collapse, as well as modifications to nitrogen assimilation pathways. The preliminary evidence suggests that CSS vegetation may decline due to elevated nitrate levels in the soil, and additional studies are need to test effects of ambient nitric acid on CSS leaves.
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CitationAllen, Edith B.; Padgett, Pamela E.; Bytnerowicz, Andrzej; Minnich, Richard. 1998. Nitrogen deposition effects on coastal sage vegetation of southern California. In: Bytnerowicz, Andrzej; Arbaugh, Michael J.; Schilling, Susan L., tech. coords. Proceedings of the international symposium on air pollution and climate change effects on forest ecosystems. Gen. Tech. Rep. PSW-GTR-166. Albany, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station: 131-139
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