Nitrogen dynamics in arctic tundra soils of varying age : differential responses to fertilization and warming
Shaver, Gaius R.
Rastetter, Edward B.
Giblin, Anne E.
Laundre, James A.
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KeywordAmino acids; Available nitrogen; Hydrolysable nitrogen; Plant community composition; Proteins
In the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, Alaska, a series of glacial retreats has created a landscape that varies widely in time since deglaciation (= soil age), from ~10k years to more than 2M years. Productivity of the moist tundra that covers most of this landscape is generally N-limited, but varies widely, as do plant-species composition and key soil properties such as pH. These differences might be altered in the future because of the projected increase in N availability under a warmer climate. We hypothesized that future changes in productivity and vegetation composition across soil ages might be mediated through changes in N availability. To test this hypothesis, we compared readily available-N (water-soluble ammonium, nitrate, and amino acids), moderately-available N (soluble proteins), hydrolysable-N, and total-N pools across three tussock-tundra landscapes with soil ages ranging from 11.5k to 300k years. We also compared the effects of long-term fertilization and warming on these N pools for the two younger sites, in order to assess whether the impacts of warming and increased N availability differ by soil age. Readily available N was largest at the oldest site, and amino acids (AA) accounted for 80-89 % of this N. At the youngest site, however, inorganic N constituted the majority (80-97%) of total readily-available N. This variation reflected the large differences in plant functional-group composition and soil chemical properties. Long-term (8-16 years) fertilization increased soluble inorganic N by 20-100 fold at the intermediate-age site, but only by 2-3 fold at the youngest-soil site. Warming caused small and inconsistent changes in the soil C:N ratio and soluble AA, but only in soils beneath Eriophorum vaginatum, the dominant tussock-forming sedge. These differential responses suggest that the impacts of warmer climates on these tundra ecosystems are more complex than simply elevated N mineralization, and that the response of the N cycling might differ strongly depending on the ecosystem’s soil age, initial soil properties, and plant-community composition.
Author Posting. © The Author(s), 2013. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Springer for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Oecologia 173 (2013): 1575-1586, doi:10.1007/s00442-013-2733-5.
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