Water and nitrogen shape winter annual plant diversity and community composition in near-urban Sonoran Desert preserves

Megan M. Wheeler, Scott L. Collins, Nancy B. Grimm, Elizabeth M. Cook, Christopher Clark, Ryan A. Sponseller, Sharon J. Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Increased nitrogen (N) deposition threatens global biodiversity, but its effects in arid urban ecosystems are not well studied. In addition to altered N availability, urban environments also experience increases in other pollutants, decreased population connectivity, and altered biotic interactions, which can further impact biodiversity. In deserts, annual plant communities make up most of the plant diversity, support wildlife, and contribute to nutrient cycling and ecosystem processes. Functional trade-offs allowing coexistence of a diversity of annual plant species are well established, but maintenance of diversity in urban conditions and with increased availability of limiting nutrients has not been explored. We conducted a 13-yr N and phosphorus (P) addition experiment in Sonoran Desert preserves in and around Phoenix, Arizona, USA to test how nutrient availability interacts with growing season precipitation, urban location, and microhabitat to affect winter annual plant diversity. Using structural equation modeling and generalized linear mixed modeling, we found that annual plant taxonomic diversity was significantly reduced in N-enriched and urban plots. Water availability in both current and previous growing seasons impacted annual plant diversity, with significant interaction effects showing increased diversity in wetter years and greater responsiveness of the community to water following a wet year. However, there were no significant interactions between N enrichment and water availability, urban location, or microhabitat. Lowered diversity in urban preserves may be partly attributable to increased urban N deposition. Changes in biodiversity of showy species like annual wildflowers in urban preserves can have important implications for connections between urban residents and nature, and reduced diversity and community restructuring with N enrichment represents a challenge for future preservation of aridland biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere01450
JournalEcological Monographs
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • Arizona
  • biodiversity
  • desert annual plants
  • fertilization
  • nitrogen
  • plant community composition
  • species richness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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