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Press Release 09-218

Climate Change, Nitrogen Loss Threaten Plant Life in Arid Desert Soils

Mojave Desert research shows that nitrogen is second only to water in importance

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Photo of desert landscape and the words Audio Slideshow

Venture into the scorching summertime Mojave in this audio slideshow.

Credit: Lisa Raffensperger, National Science Foundation

 

Two schematics showing pathways of nitrogen loss in a non-desert and desert systems.

Nitrogen loss in a non-desert system happens primarily through biological processes and water leaching. In a desert, in the summer, however, the soil layer heats up so much that microorganisms are not active enough to release nitrogen; neither is there enough water to cause significant leaching. Researchers have found that the heat itself causes large reactive nitrogen species evaporation.

Credit: Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation


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Photo of a yucca in the Mojave Desert with the setting sun in the background.

Sunset over the Mojave Desert: Will its plant life wane in response to global warming?

Credit: Jed Sparks


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Photo of shrubs in the Mojave Desert.

In the Mojave Desert, shrubs create islands of plant life.

Credit: Jed Sparks


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Photo of Carrie McCalley installing soil collars used to measure nitrogen flux in desert soils.

Carrie McCalley installs "soil collars" used to measure nitrogen flux in desert soils.

Credit: Jed Sparks


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Photo of soil collars resting in the spaces between plants and under evergreen shrubs.

Soil collars rest in the spaces between plants and under evergreen shrubs.

Credit: Jed Sparks


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A close-up of a nitrogen measurement lid under a shrub common in the Mojave Desert.

A close-up of a nitrogen measurement lid under a shrub common in the Mojave Desert.

Credit: Jed Sparks


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Photo showing a shrub turning a bright green after a rain in the Mohave.

After the rains come to the Mojave, shrubs and other plant life turn a bright green.

Credit: Jed Sparks


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Cover of the Nov. 6 issue of Science magazine.

The researchers' findings are published in the Nov. 6 issue of the journal Science.

Credit: Copyright 2009 AAAS


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