Nitrogen supply differentially affects litter decomposition rates and nitrogen dynamics of sub-arctic bog species
High-latitude peatlands are important soil carbon sinks. In these ecosystems, the mineralization of carbon and nitrogen are constrained by low temperatures and low nutrient concentrations in plant litter and soil organic matter. Global warming is predicted to increase soil N availability for plants at high-latitude sites. We applied N fertilizer as an experimental analogue for this increase. In a three-year field experiment we studied N fertilization effects on leaf litter decomposition and N dynamics of the four dominant plant species (comprising >75% of total aboveground biomass) in a sub-arctic bog in northern Sweden. The species were Empetrum nigrum (evergreen shrub), Eriophorum vaginatum (graminoid), Betula nana (deciduous shrub) and Rubus chamaemorus (perennial forb). In the controls, litter mass loss rates increased in the order: Empetrum < Eriophorum < Betula < Rubus. Increased N availability had variable, species-specific effects: litter mass loss rates (expressed per unit litter mass) increased in Empetrum, did not change in Eriophorum and Betula and decreased in Rubus. In the leaf litter from the controls, we measured no or only slight net N mineralization even after three years. In the N-fertilized treatments we found strong net N immobilization, especially in Eriophorum and Betula. This suggests that, probably owing to substantial chemical and/or microbial immobilization, additional N supply does not increase the rate of N cycling for at least the first three years.
KeywordsCarbon storage Global warming Litter chemistry Nitrogen cycling Peatland
We gratefully acknowledge the director and staff of the Abisko Scientific Research Station for facilitating this study. Thanks are due to Ellen Dorrepaal who did part of the nutrient additions for us and whose critical comments greatly improved this paper. This study was financially supported by USF grant 98/24 to RA. The field experiment described in this paper complied with Swedish law.
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