Long-Term Warming and Nitrogen Addition Have Contrasting Effects on Ecosystem Carbon Exchange in a Desert Steppe

Wu, Qian; Ren, Haiyan; Bisseling, Ton; Chang, Scott X.; Wang, Zhen; Li, Yuanheng; Pan, Zhanlei; Liu, Yinghao; Cahill, James F.; Cheng, Xu; Zhao, Mengli; Wang, Zhongwu; Li, Zhiguo; Han, Guodong


Desert steppe, a unique ecotone between steppe and desert in Eurasia, is considered highly vulnerable to global change. However, the long-term impact of warming and nitrogen deposition on plant biomass production and ecosystem carbon exchange in a desert steppe remains unknown. A 12-year field experiment was conducted in a Stipa breviflora desert steppe in northern China. A split-design was used, with warming simulated by infrared radiators as the primary factor and N addition as the secondary factor. Our long-term experiment shows that warming did not change net ecosystem exchange (NEE) or total aboveground biomass (TAB) due to contrasting effects on C4 (23.4% increase) and C3 (11.4% decrease) plant biomass. However, nitrogen addition increased TAB by 9.3% and NEE by 26.0% by increasing soil available N content. Thus, the studied desert steppe did not switch from a carbon sink to a carbon source in response to global change and positively responded to nitrogen deposition. Our study indicates that the desert steppe may be resilient to long-term warming by regulating plant species with contrasting photosynthetic types and that nitrogen deposition could increase plant growth and carbon sequestration, providing negative feedback on climate change.