Ochoa Hueso, Raúl and Arróniz Crespo, María and Bowker, Mathew A. and Maestre, Fernando T. and Pérez Corona, M. Esther and Theobald, Mark Richard and Vivanco, Marta G. and Manrique, Esteban
Biogeochemical indicators of elevated nitrogen deposition in semiarid Mediterranean ecosystems.
"Environmental Monitoring And Assessment", v. 186
Nitrogen (N) deposition has doubled the natural N inputs received by ecosystems through biological N fixation and is currently a global problem that is affecting the Mediterranean regions. We evaluated the existing relationships between increased atmospheric N deposition and biogeochemical indicators related to soil chemical factors and cryptogam species across semiarid central, southern, and eastern Spain. The cryptogam species studied were the biocrust-forming species Pleurochaete squarrosa (moss) and Cladonia foliacea (lichen). Sampling sites were chosen in Quercus coccifera (kermes oak) shrublands and Pinus halepensis (Aleppo pine) forests to cover a range of inorganic N deposition representative of the levels found in the Iberian Peninsula (between 4.4 and 8.1 kg N ha(-1) year(-1)). We extended the ambient N deposition gradient by including experimental plots to which N had been added for 3 years at rates of 10, 20, and 50 kg N ha(-1) year(-1). Overall, N deposition (extant plus simulated) increased soil inorganic N availability and caused soil acidification. Nitrogen deposition increased phosphomonoesterase (PME) enzyme activity and PME/nitrate reductase (NR) ratio in both species, whereas the NR activity was reduced only in the moss. Responses of PME and NR activities were attributed to an induced N to phosphorus imbalance and to N saturation, respectively. When only considering the ambient N deposition, soil organic C and N contents were positively related to N deposition, a response driven by pine forests. The PME/NR ratios of the moss were better predictors of N deposition rates than PME or NR activities alone in shrublands, whereas no correlation between N deposition and the lichen physiology was observed. We conclude that integrative physiological measurements, such as PME/NR ratios, measured on sensitive species such as P. squarrosa, can provide useful data for national-scale biomonitoring programs, whereas soil acidification and soil C and N storage could be useful as additional corroborating ecosystem indicators of chronic N pollution.