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Effects of temperature and fertilization on nitrogen cycling and community composition of an urban lawn


We examined the influence of temperature and management practices on the nitrogen (N) cycling of turfgrass, the largest irrigated crop in the United States. We measured nitrous oxide (N₂O) fluxes, and plant and soil N content and isotopic composition with a manipulative experiment of temperature and fertilizer application. Infrared lamps were used to increase surface temperature by 3.5±1.3 °C on average and control and heated plots were split into high and low fertilizer treatments. The N₂O fluxes increased following fertilizer application and were also directly related to soil moisture. There was a positive effect of warming on N₂O fluxes. Soils in the heated plots were enriched in nitrogen isotope ratio (δ¹⁵N) relative to control plots, consistent with greater gaseous losses of N. For all treatments, C₄ plant C/N ratio was negatively correlated with plant δ¹⁵N, suggesting that low leaf N was associated with the use of isotopically depleted N sources such as mineralized organic matter. A significant and unexpected result was a large, rapid increase in the proportion of C₄ plants in the heated plots relative to control plots, as measured by the carbon isotope ratio (δ¹³C) of total harvested aboveground biomass. The C₄ plant biomass was dominated by crabgrass, a common weed in C₃ fescue lawns. Our results suggest that an increase in temperature caused by climate change as well as the urban heat island effect may result in increases in N₂O emissions from fertilized urban lawns. In addition, warming may exacerbate weed invasions, which may require more intensive management, e.g. herbicide application, to manage species composition.

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