Biogeochemical Stoichiometry Reveals P and N Limitation Across the Post-glacial Landscape of Denali National Park, Alaska
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Global warming has accelerated glacial retreat in high-elevation and high-latitude ecosystems, exposing new terrain that can undergo predictable patterns of ecosystem succession, especially in coastal areas with relatively mild climates. However, little work has been done in harsher high-elevation and inland areas where the rate of plant and microbial succession may be greatly slowed by dryness and low temperatures. The present study is the first to address microbial succession at a major glacial foreland (the Middle Fork Toklat Glacier) in the interior of Alaska. We used a spatially nested sampling regime to reveal the landscape patterns in microbial activity and biogeochemical pools during the pre-plant stage of primary succession along this high-elevation and high-latitude chronosequence. Recently deglaciated soils (0–10 years) were colonized by a diverse microbial community that included many chemoautotrophs that likely subsist on high levels of un-weathered minerals (for example, pyrite) found at this site. Rates of N-fixation and extracellular enzyme activities were very low in the youngest soils sampled, but increased during the first 20 years of succession coinciding with a decrease in TOC and C:N levels. In older soils (20–54 years), TOC and TON increased and IN became undetectable perhaps indicating N limitation. Indicators of microbial activity stopped increasing 20 years post de-glaciation and remained at levels well below those seen at lower elevation and lower latitude sites, perhaps indicating severe nutrient limitations. Stoichiometric analyses also indicated phosphorus and nitrogen limitation across the entire chronosequence, with no indication of carbon limitation of microbial activity. These results indicate that nutrient limitation, rather than the constraints of a severe climate, may be the dominant factor slowing the rate of succession at high-latitude and high-altitude glacial forelands.
Keywordsbarren soils glacial forelands Mt. Denali Alaska Range chemoautotrophs shale soils residual carbon
The authors thank M. Mitter, M. Harris, M. Concienne, J. Onorato for help in the field and J. Zawacki, S.P Anderson, S.C. Reed, H.H. Bushnell and R. Lynch for laboratory assistance. We also thank P. Anderson, L. Tyrell, and B. Concienne of Denali National Park and Preserve for help with logistics. Funding was provided by two Discover Denali Research Fellowships to B.L. Concienne, NSF grants DEB1258160 and DEB1457827, and a grant from the USAF Office of Scientific Research (FA9550-14-1-0006).
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