Seasonal and Spatial Controls over Nutrient Cycling in a Pacific Northwest Prairie

West Coast prairies in the US are an endangered ecosystem, and effective conservation will require an understanding of how changing climate will impact nutrient cycling and availability. We examined how seasonal patterns and micro-heterogeneity in edaphic conditions (% moisture, total organic carbon, % clay, pH, and inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus) control carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycling in an upland prairie in western Oregon, USA. Across the prairie, we collected soils seasonally and measured microbial respiration, net nitrogen mineralization, net nitrification, and phosphorus availability under field conditions and under experimentally varied temperature and moisture treatments. The response variables differed in the degree of temperature and moisture limitation within seasons and how these factors varied across sampling sites. In general, we found that microbial respiration was limited by low soil moisture year-round and by low temperatures in the winter. Net nitrogen mineralization and net nitrification were never limited by temperature, but both were limited by excessive soil moisture in winter, and net nitrification was also inhibited by low soil moisture in the summer. Factors that enhanced microbial respiration tended to decrease soil phosphorus availability. Edaphic factors explained 76% of the seasonal and spatial variation in microbial respiration, 35% of the variation in phosphorus availability, and 29% of the variation in net nitrification. Much of the variation in net nitrogen mineralization remained unexplained (R 2 = 0.19). This study, for the first time, demonstrates the complex seasonal controls over nutrient cycling in a Pacific Northwest prairie.