Regular Article

Plant and Soil

, Volume 301, Issue 1, pp 65-76

Shift in soil–plant nitrogen dynamics of an alpine–nival ecotone

  • Edith HuberAffiliated withDepartment of Chemical Ecology and Ecosystem Research, University of ViennaSchool of Forest and Ecosystem Science, The University of Melbourne
  • , Wolfgang WanekAffiliated withDepartment of Chemical Ecology and Ecosystem Research, University of Vienna
  • , Michael GottfriedAffiliated withDepartment of Conservation Biology, Vegetation and Landscape Ecology, University of Vienna
  • , Harald PauliAffiliated withDepartment of Conservation Biology, Vegetation and Landscape Ecology, University of Vienna
  • , Peter SchweigerAffiliated withDepartment of Forest and Soil Science, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences
  • , Stefan K. ArndtAffiliated withSchool of Forest and Ecosystem Science, The University of Melbourne
  • , Karl ReiterAffiliated withDepartment of Conservation Biology, Vegetation and Landscape Ecology, University of Vienna
  • , Andreas RichterAffiliated withDepartment of Chemical Ecology and Ecosystem Research, University of ViennaSchool of Forest and Ecosystem Science, The University of Melbourne Email author 

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

We investigated the nitrogen (N) dynamics of an alpine–nival ecotone on Mt. Schrankogel, Tyrol, Austria, in relation to temperature. Natural abundance of 15N was used as a tool to elucidate differences in N cycling along an altitudinal transect ranging from 2,906 to 3,079 m, corresponding to a gradient in mean annual temperature of 2.4 °C. The amount of total soil N, of plant available N and soil C/N ratio decreased significantly with increasing altitude, whereas soil pH increased. Soil δ 15N decreased with increasing altitude from +2.2 to −2.1‰ and δ 15N of plant tissues (roots and leaves) decreased from −3.7 to −5.5‰. The large shift in soil δ 15N of 4.3‰ from the lowest to the highest site suggested substantial differences in N cycling in alpine and nival ecosystems in the alpine nival ecotone investigated. We concluded that N cycling at the alpine–nival ecotone is likely to be controlled by various factors: temperature, soil age and development, atmospheric N deposition and plant competition. Our results furthermore demonstrate that the alpine–nival ecotone may serve as a sensitive indicator of global change.

Keywords

Climate change High mountains Mineralization Nitrification Stable isotopes Temperature Radiocarbon