Nitrogen cycling in tropical and temperate savannas

M. M.C. Bustamante, E. Medina, G. P. Asner, G. B. Nardoto, D. C. Garcia-Montiel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

126 Scopus citations


Savannas are the most common vegetation type in the tropics and subtropics, ranging in physiognomy from grasslands with scattered woody plants to woodlands with heterogeneous grass cover. Productivity and organic matter turnover in savannas are controlled by interactions between water and nutrient availability, and this basic environmental structure is modified by fire frequency and land management practices. We compared temperate and tropical savannas in order to understand the strength of nitrogen (N) limitation of productivity. American tropical and temperate savannas are N limited systems, and the N cycle differs according to the woody plant density, fire frequency, land use change, N deposition and N fixation. Grazing and conversion to pasture have been the predominant land-use changes in most savannas. In the Cerrado and the Llanos tropical savannas, intensified use of fire for pasture management is leading to decreased woody plant density. Oppositely, in the Chaco and North American temperate savannas, fire suppression and grazing are leading to increases in woody density. In addition, the higher soil P availability in the Gran Chaco and the higher N deposition in North American savannas may be contributing to increases of N cycling and net productivity rates. Some aspects of the N budget for savannas of the American continent are still unclear and require further analysis to determine rates of N fixation, and to understand how spatial and temporal soil heterogeneity control N fluxes through soil solution and into streams.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)209-237
Number of pages29
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - May 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Cerrado
  • Fire
  • Llanos
  • Mesquite
  • Nitrogen
  • Savannas
  • Trace gases

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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