Nitrogen loss threatens desert plant life

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Washington, November 8 (ANI): In a new research, scientists have determined that as the climate gets warmer, arid soils lose nitrogen as gas, which could lead to deserts with even less plant life than they sustain today.

"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, Cornell University, and co-author of the study.

"It allows us to finally understand the dynamics of nitrogen in arid systems," he added.

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.

Sparks and lead author Carmody McCalley, a graduate student, warn that temperature increases and shifting precipitation patterns due to climate change may lead to further nitrogen losses in arid ecosystems.

That would make arid soils even more infertile and unable to support most plant life, McCalley warned.

Although, some climate models predict more summer rainfall for desert areas, the water, when combined with heat, would greatly increase nitrogen losses, she added.

"We're on a trajectory where plant life in arid ecosystems could cease to do well," she said. (ANI)

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