, Volume 73, Issue 2, pp 359-380

The seasonal dynamics of amino acids and other nutrients in Alaskan Arctic tundra soils

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Past research strongly indicates the importance of amino acids in the N economy of the Arctic tundra, but little is known about the seasonal dynamics of amino acids in tundra soils. We repeatedly sampled soils from tussock, shrub, and wet sedge tundra communities in the summers of 2000 and 2001 and extracted them with water (H2O) and potassium sulfate (K2SO4) to determine the seasonal dynamics of soil amino acids, ammonium (NH4 +), nitrate (NO3 ), dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and phosphate (PO4 2−). In the H2O extractions mean concentrations of total free amino acids (TFAA) were higher than NH4 + in all soils but shrub. TFAA and NH4 + were highest in wet sedge and tussock soils and lowest in shrub soil. The most predominant amino acids were alanine, arginine, glycine, serine, and threonine. None of the highest amino acids were significantly different than NH4 + in any soil but shrub, in which NH4 + was significantly higher than all of the highest individual amino acids. Mean NO3 concentrations were not significantly different from mean TFAA and NH4 + concentrations in any soil but tussock, where NO3 was significantly higher than NH4 +. In all soils amino acid and NH4 + concentrations dropped to barely detectable levels in the middle of July, suggesting intense competition for N at the height of the growing season. In all soils but tussock, amino acid and NH4 + concentrations rebounded in August as the end of the Arctic growing season approached and plant N demand decreased. This pattern suggests that low N concentrations in tundra soils at the height of the growing season are likely the result of an increase in soil N uptake associated with the peak in plant growth, either directly by roots or indirectly by microbes fueled by increased root C inputs in mid-July. As N availability decreased in July, PO4 2− concentrations in the K2SO4 extractions increased dramatically in all soils but shrub, where there was a comparable increase in PO4 2− later in the growing season. Previous research suggests that these increases in PO4 2− concentrations are due to the mineralization of organic phosphorus by phosphatase enzymes associated with soil microbes and plant roots, and that they may have been caused by an increase in organic P availability.