, Volume 161, Issue 2, pp 353–359

Variation in moss-associated nitrogen fixation in boreal forest stands

Ecosystem Ecology - Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00442-009-1391-0

Cite this article as:
Markham, J.H. Oecologia (2009) 161: 353. doi:10.1007/s00442-009-1391-0


Traditionally it has been thought that most boreal forest communities lack a significant input of biologically fixed nitrogen. Recent discoveries of nitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria associated with mosses have resulted in a re-evaluation of this view. While it is recognized that rates of nitrogen fixation in mosses can be highly variable, there is little understanding as to why this occurs. I monitored nitrogen fixation, using acetylene reduction, in wet lowland and dry upland boreal forest communities, in central Canada, over a growing season. At the peak of nitrogen fixation in mid summer, Sphagnum capillifolium had an 11 times higher rate of fixation than Pleurozium schreberi. Variation in canopy openness and precipitation had no effect on rates of fixation over the growing season. In P. schreberi fixation rates did not vary between sites. Temperature had a positive effect on fixation rates in both S. capillifolium and P. schreberi, but the effect was 4 times more pronounced in S. capillifolium. Seasonal rates of nitrogen fixation were estimated at 193 mg N m−2 for S. capillifolium and 23 mg N m−2 for P. schreberi. With moderate increases in climate warming, predicted increases in nitrogen fixation in S. capillifolium are sufficient to raise its decomposition rate. Increased temperatures may therefore act synergistically to change boreal systems from a sink to a source of carbon.


Associative nitrogen fixationPleurozium schreberiSphagnum capillifolium

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of ManitobaWinnipegCanada