Several components of global change alter nitrifying and denitrifying activities in an annual grassland
1. The effects of global change on below-ground processes of the nitrogen (N) cycle have repercussions for plant communities, productivity and trace gas effluxes. However, the interacting effects of different components of global change on nitrification or denitrification have rarely been studied in situ.
2. We measured responses of nitrifying enzyme activity (NEA) and denitrifying enzyme activity (DEA) to over 4 years of exposure to several components of global change and their interaction (increased atmospheric CO2 concentration, temperature, precipitation and N addition) at peak biomass period in an annual grassland ecosystem. In order to provide insight into the mechanisms controlling the response of NEA and DEA to global change, we examined the relationships between these activities and soil moisture, microbial biomass C and N, and soil extractable N.
3. Across all treatment combinations, NEA was decreased by elevated CO2 and increased by N addition. While elevated CO2 had no effect on NEA when not combined with other treatments, it suppressed the positive effect of N addition on NEA in all the treatments that included N addition. We found a significant CO2–N interaction for DEA, with a positive effect of elevated CO2 on DEA only in the treatments that included N addition, suggesting that N limitation of denitrifiers may have occurred in our system. Soil water content, extractable N concentrations and their interaction explained 74% of the variation in DEA.
4. Our results show that the potentially large and interacting effects of different components of global change should be considered in predicting below-ground N responses of Mediterranean grasslands to future climate changes.