, Volume 15, Issue 6, pp 927–939 | Cite as

Nitrogen Uptake During Fall, Winter and Spring Differs Among Plant Functional Groups in a Subarctic Heath Ecosystem

  • Klaus S. Larsen
  • Anders Michelsen
  • Sven Jonasson
  • Claus Beier
  • Paul Grogan


Nitrogen (N) is a critical resource for plant growth in tundra ecosystems, and species differences in the timing of N uptake may be an important feature regulating community composition and ecosystem productivity. We added 15N-labelled glycine to a subarctic heath tundra dominated by dwarf shrubs, mosses and graminoids in fall, and investigated its partitioning among ecosystem components at several time points (October, November, April, May, June) through to the following spring/early summer. Soil microbes had acquired 65 ± 7% of the 15N tracer by October, but this pool decreased through winter to 37 ± 7% by April indicating significant microbial N turnover prior to spring thaw. Only the evergreen dwarf shrubs showed active 15N acquisition before early May indicating that they had the highest potential of all functional groups for acquiring nutrients that became available in early spring. The faster-growing deciduous shrubs did not resume 15N acquisition until after early May indicating that they relied more on nitrogen made available later during the spring/early summer. The graminoids and mosses had no significant increases in 15N tracer recovery or tissue 15N tracer concentrations after the first harvest in October. However, the graminoids had the highest root 15N tracer concentrations of all functional groups in October indicating that they primarily relied on N made available during summer and fall. Our results suggest a temporal differentiation among plant functional groups in the post-winter resumption of N uptake with evergreen dwarf shrubs having the highest potential for early N uptake, followed by deciduous dwarf shrubs and graminoids.


15N isotope labelling glycine cold-season plant nitrogen uptake winter temporal nitrogen uptake pattern microbial biomass 



The Abisko Scientific Research Station provided excellent logistic support during the field work. Niels Bruun, Gosha Sylvester and Karna Heinsen assisted with laboratory analyses. We thank the Danish National Research Foundation for support. The specific work was financed by the University of Copenhagen, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Danish Natural Science Research Council.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Klaus S. Larsen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anders Michelsen
    • 1
    • 3
  • Sven Jonasson
    • 1
  • Claus Beier
    • 2
  • Paul Grogan
    • 4
  1. 1.Terrestrial Ecology Section, Department of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  2. 2.Department of Chemical and Biochemical EngineeringTechnical University of DenmarkKgs. LyngbyDenmark
  3. 3.Center for Permafrost (CENPERM)University of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  4. 4.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

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