, Volume 138, Issue 2, pp 210–215 | Cite as

Carbon isotope discrimination and foliar nutrient status of Larrea tridentata (creosote bush) in contrasting Mojave Desert soils

  • Erik P. HamerlynckEmail author
  • Travis E. Huxman
  • Joseph R. McAuliffe
  • Stanley D. Smith


We investigated the relationships between foliar stable carbon isotope discrimination (Δ), % foliar N, and predawn water potentials (ψpd) and midday stomatal conductance (g s) of Larrea tridentata across five Mojave Desert soils with different age-specific surface and sub-surface horizon development and soil hydrologies. We wished to elucidate how this long-lived evergreen shrub optimizes leaf-level physiological performance across soils with physicochemical characteristics that affect the distribution of limiting water and nitrogen resources. We found that in young, coarse alluvial soils that permit water infiltration to deeper soil horizons, % foliar N was highest and Δ, g s and ψpd were lowest, while %N was lowest and Δ, g s and ψpd were highest in fine sandy soils; Larrea growing in older soils with well-developed surface and sub-surface horizons exhibited intermediate values for these parameters. Δ showed negative linear relationships with % N (R 2=0.54) and a positive relationship with ψpd (R 2=0.14). Multiple regression analyses showed a strong degree of multicolinearity of g s and Δ with ψpd and N, suggesting that soil-mediated distribution of co-limiting water and nitrogen resources was the primary determinant of stomatal behavior, which is the primary limitation to productivity in this shrub. These findings show that subtle changes in the soil medium plays a strong role in the spatial and temporal distribution and utilization of limiting water and nitrogen resources by this long-lived desert evergreen, and that this role can be detected through carbon isotope ratios.


Bajada Nitrogen Photosynthesis Plant water relations Soil hydrology 



We wish to thank the staff of the University of California Riverside’s Sweeney Granite Mountain Desert Preserve for their help during this project. Funds from Rutgers University to E.P.H., the NSF-EPSCoR and matching funds from the State of Nevada to S.D.S., and the Desert Botanical Garden to J.R.M., supported this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Erik P. Hamerlynck
    • 1
    Email author
  • Travis E. Huxman
    • 2
  • Joseph R. McAuliffe
    • 3
  • Stanley D. Smith
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesRutgers UniversityNewarkUSA
  2. 2.Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ArizonaTucsonUSA
  3. 3.Desert Botanical GardenPhoenixUSA
  4. 4.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Nevada Las VegasLas VegasUSA

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