Desert Balancing Act

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Science  06 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5954, pp. 769
DOI: 10.1126/science.326_769g

Ecosystem nutrient budgets are often difficult to estimate given the variety of processes and organisms that influence their flux. In deserts, for example, the loss of nitrogen—a limiting nutrient for growth—is often thought to be mediated by the generation of trace gases from biological activity. McCalley and Sparks (p. 837) present results from the Mojave Desert that suggest most nitrogen is instead driven off by the Sun at high temperatures that inhibit microbial activity. This requires a reevaluation of the desert nitrogen budget both now and in the future when climate change may drive increased abiotic emissions in arid ecosystems.

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