Soil elemental cycles become more coupled in response to increased nitrogen deposition in a semiarid shrubland

Cristina Caetano-Sánchez* (Corresponding author), Juan Piñero, Raúl Ochoa-Hueso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review


Background and aims: Increased N deposition can break the coupled associations among chemical elements in soil, many of which are essential plant nutrients. We evaluated the effects of four years of N deposition (0, 10, 20, 50 kg N ha−1 yr−1) on the temporal dynamics of the spatial co-variation (i.e., coupling) among ten chemical elements in soils from a semiarid shrubland in central Spain. Methods: Soil element coupling was calculated as the mean of Spearman rank correlation coefficients of all possible pairwise interactions among elemental cycles, in absolute value. We also investigated the role of atomic properties of elements as regulators of coupling. Results: While N deposition impacts on nutrient bioavailability were variable, soil elemental coupling consistently increased in response to N. Coupling responses also varied among elements and N treatments, and four out of ten elemental cycles also responded to N in a season-dependent manner. Atomic properties of elements such as mass, valence orbitals, and electronegativity contributed to explain the spatial coupling of soil elements, most likely due their role on the capacity of elements to interact with one another. Conclusions: The cumulative effects of N deposition can alter the spatial associations among chemical elements in soils, while not having evident consequences on the bioavailability of single elments. These results indicate that considering how multiple elements co-vary in topsoils may provide a useful framework to better understand the simultaneous response of multiple elemental cycles to global change.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPlant and Soil
Publication statusPublished - 05 Apr 2024


  • Atomic properties of atoms
  • Elemental coupling
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Nutrient availability
  • Semiarid Mediterranean shrubland
  • Spatial distribution of elements


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