Researchers to study impacts of pollutant nitrogen on plant species diversity

November 08, 2012

RIVERSIDE, Calif -- Nitrogen is a beneficial plant fertilizer in small amounts, but large amounts cause negative impacts on ecosystems, such as water pollution, acidification of soils, increased productivity of invasive species, increased probability of wildfire, and a decline of native plant diversity.

Over the past century human activities have more than quadrupled the amount of plant-available nitrogen inputs from the atmosphere compared to natural inputs. What impact does this have on plant species diversity across the United States?

A group of scientists, including researchers at the University of California, Riverside, has received a one-year $100,000 grant from the John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis of the U.S. Geological Survey to examine the evidence for impacts of pollutant nitrogen on plant species diversity across the United States. Specifically, the group, called the Powell Center Working Group on Diversity and Nitrogen Deposition, will synthesize data sets on the impacts of nitrogen deposition on plant diversity.

"Documentation of the impacts of nitrogen deposition on plant diversity are generally lacking in the U.S., but observations from Europe indicate biodiversity losses in areas with high levels of nitrogen pollution," said Edith B. Allen, a professor of plant ecology in the Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and the grant's principal investigator at UC Riverside. Other principal investigators are at the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Nitrogen's primary sources are agriculture, industry and automobile emissions. Nitrogen deposition refers to the input of reactive nitrogen species from the atmosphere to the biosphere. The pollutants that contribute to nitrogen deposition derive mainly from nitrogen oxides and ammonia.

Allen and her colleagues will evaluate patterns of plant diversity within plant communities along gradients ranging from high to low nitrogen deposition. The group will determine the gradients from a nationwide deposition model as well as measured deposition data from the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies.

"We have already obtained plant diversity data from government and private sources," said Allen, a member of UCR's Center for Conservation Biology. "We will use our results to refine critical loads of nitrogen inputs that cause losses in diversity, and we will make available critical load data to regulatory agencies so that they can set air quality standards to preserve biodiversity."

The Powell Center Working Group on Diversity and Nitrogen Deposition has a total of 16 collaborators from the United States and Europe. At UCR, Allen will be joined in the research by Robert Johnson, an assistant specialist in the Center for Conservation Biology.

The John Wesley Powell Center for Analysis and Synthesis serves as a catalyst for innovative thinking in earth system science research by providing scientists from different backgrounds a place and time to focus on multi-faceted issues. Its working groups come together around information related to complex questions or phenomena.
-end-
The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus will open a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion. A broadcast studio with fiber cable to the AT&T Hollywood hub is available for live or taped interviews. UCR also has ISDN for radio interviews. To learn more, call (951) UCR-NEWS.

University of California - Riverside

Related Nitrogen Articles from Brightsurf:

Chemistry: How nitrogen is transferred by a catalyst
Catalysts with a metal-nitrogen bond can transfer nitrogen to organic molecules.

Illinois research links soil nitrogen levels to corn yield and nitrogen losses
What exactly is the relationship between soil nitrogen, corn yield, and nitrogen loss?

Reducing nitrogen with boron and beer
The industrial conversion of nitrogen to ammonium provides fertiliser for agriculture.

New nitrogen products are in the air
A nifty move with nitrogen has brought the world one step closer to creating a range of useful products -- from dyes to pharmaceuticals -- out of thin air.

'Black nitrogen'
In the periodic table of elements there is one golden rule for carbon, oxygen, and other light elements.

A deep dive into better understanding nitrogen impacts
This special issue presents a selection of 13 papers that advance our understanding of cascading consequences of reactive nitrogen species along their emission, transport, deposition, and the impacts in the atmosphere.

How does an increase in nitrogen application affect grasslands?
The 'PaNDiv' experiment, established by researchers of the University of Bern on a 3000 m2 field site, is the largest biodiversity-ecosystem functioning experiment in Switzerland and aims to better understand how increases in nitrogen affect grasslands.

Reducing reliance on nitrogen fertilizers with biological nitrogen fixation
Crop yields have increased substantially over the past decades, occurring alongside the increasing use of nitrogen fertilizer.

Flushing nitrogen from seawater-based toilets
With about half the world's population living close to the coast, using seawater to flush toilets could be possible with a salt-tolerant bacterium.

We must wake up to devastating impact of nitrogen, say scientists
More than 150 top international scientists are calling on the world to take urgent action on nitrogen pollution, to tackle the widespread harm it is causing to humans, wildlife and the planet.

Read More: Nitrogen News and Nitrogen Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.