Nutrient controls of ecosystem pattern and process have been widely studied at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, a well-studied California rangeland ecosystem. Here we review these studies, from leaf to landscape scales, with the intention of developing a deeper understanding of carbon (C)–nutrient interactions in such an ecosystem. At the leaf scale, several studies conducted on diverse plant species have revealed a strong positive relationship between leaf nitrogen (N) concentrations and maximal rates of photosynthesis. This relationship, which has subsequently been observed globally, can be explained by the nutritional requirements of photosynthetic machinery. Consistent with this local physiological constraint, N availability has been shown to limit carbon uptake of California rangeland ecosystems. In some cases phosphorus (P; and N plus P) limits productivity, too—particularly in serpentine soils, pointing to the importance of parent material in regulating CO2 uptake at landscape scales. Nutrient dynamics are also affected by herbivory, which seems to accelerate N and P cycles over the short term (years), but may lead to nutrient limitation of plant production over the longer term (decades). Simulated global change experiments at Jasper Ridge have also provided insight into C–nutrient interactions in grasslands. In particular, several field-based experiments have shown that CO2 doubling does not necessarily simulate productivity of California grasslands; rather, the strength and sign of net primary productivity (NPP) responses to CO2 doubling varies across years and conditions. Although simulated N deposition stimulates NPP, N plus CO2 combinations do not necessarily increase productivity beyond N treatments singly. Poorly understood feedbacks between plants, microbes, and P availability may underlie variation in the response of California grasslands to increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. We conclude that interactions between C, N, and P appear especially vital in shaping plant productivity patterns in California rangelands and the capacity of this ecosystem to store additional C in the future.
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Vol. 63 • No. 1