The biogeochemistry of a north-temperate grassland with native ungulates: Nitrogen dynamics in Yellowstone National Park

Douglas A. Frank, Richard S. Inouye, Nancy Huntly, G. Wayn Minshall, Jay E. Anderson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations

Abstract

Nutrient dynamics of large grassland ecosystems possessing abundant migratory grazers are poorly understood. We examined N cycling on the northern winter range of Yellowstone National Park, home for large herds of free-roaming elk (Cervus elaphus) and bison (Bison bison). Plant and soil N, net N mineralization, and the deposition of ungulate fecal-N were measured at five sites, a ridgetop, mid-slope bench, steep slope, valley-bottom bench, and riparian area, within a watershed from May, 1991 to April, 1992. Results indicated similarities between biogeochemical properties of Yellowstone grassland and other grassland ecosystems: (1) landscape position and soil water affected nutrient dynamics, (2) annual mineralization was positively related to soil N content, and (3) the proportion of soil N mineralized during the year was negatively related to soil C/N. Grazers were a particularly important component of the N budget of this grassland. Estimated rates of N flow from ungulates to the soil ranged from 8.1 to 45.6 kg/ha/yr at the sites (average = 27.0 kg/ha/yr), approximately 4.5 times the amount of N in senescent plants. Rates of nitrogen mineralization for Yellowstone northern range grassland were higher than those measured in other temperate grassland ecosystems, possibly due to grazers promoting N cycling in Yellowstone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)163-188
Number of pages26
JournalBiogeochemistry
Volume26
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1994
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Yellowstone National Park
  • grasslands
  • herbivory
  • nitrogen cycling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes

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