The potential bioavailability of organic C, N, and P through enzyme hydrolysis in soils of the Mojave Desert

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Increases in the growth rate of plants and microbes in the Mojave Desert in response to predicted increases in precipitation and CO2 due to global climate change may induce nutrient limitations. This study was designed to measure the pool of potentially bioavailable nutrients in soils of the Mojave Desert. Soils were collected from shrub and interspace microsites and then subjected to amendment with buffered solutions of an excess of various enzymes. The products of each enzyme reaction were then measured and the maximum quantity of hydrolyzable substrates was calculated. In interspace and shrub microsite soils, respectively, 14.5 and 9.7% of the organic C in the form cellulose, 60.0-97.8% and 61.2-100.0% of the organic N in the form protein, and 44.0 and 57.5% of the organic P was hydrolyzable. There were significant differences between microsites for hydrolyzable substrate using all enzyme amendments, except protease. We propose that accumulations of hydrolyzable organic C, N, and P in the Mojave Desert could be a result of the persistently dry soil conditions often found in desert ecosystems and the immobilization of enzymes, which may result in low diffusivity of soil substrates and enzymes and, accordingly, little degradation of organic C, N, and P. Alternatively, rapid nutrient cycling and immobilization by soil microorganisms could account for accumulations of organic C, N, and P. Further refinement of the methods used in this study could lead to a valuable tool for the assessment of potential bioavailability of nutrients in a variety of soils.

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