Abiotic Gas Formation Drives Nitrogen Loss from a Desert Ecosystem

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Science  06 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5954, pp. 837-840
DOI: 10.1126/science.1178984

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In arid environments such as deserts, nitrogen is often the most limiting nutrient for biological activity. The majority of the ecosystem nitrogen flux is typically thought to be driven by production and loss of reactive nitrogen species by microorganisms in the soil. We found that high soil-surface temperatures (greater than 50°C), driven by solar radiation, are the primary cause of nitrogen loss in Mojave Desert soils. This abiotic pathway not only enables the balancing of arid ecosystem nitrogen budgets, but also changes our view of global nitrogen cycling and the predicted impact of climate change and increased temperatures on nitrogen bioavailability.

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