, Volume 19, Issue 7, pp 1164–1177 | Cite as

Biogeochemical Stoichiometry Reveals P and N Limitation Across the Post-glacial Landscape of Denali National Park, Alaska

  • S. K. SchmidtEmail author
  • D. Porazinska
  • B.-L. Concienne
  • J. L. Darcy
  • A. J. King
  • D. R. Nemergut


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.


barren 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).

Supplementary material

10021_2016_9992_MOESM1_ESM.png (1.5 mb)
Supplemental Figure 1 Typical sampling site near the glacier terminus illustrating the general rocky nature of the soil (PNG 1548 kb)
10021_2016_9992_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (131 kb)
Supplemental Figure 2 Bacterial alpha diversity at three sites near the 2008 glacier terminus (red lines and dots) and the site of the 1954 terminus (blue dots and lines) (PDF 131 kb)
10021_2016_9992_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (324 kb)
Supplemental Figure 3 Breakdown of bacterial groups near the 2008 terminus (“close”) and the 1954 terminus (“far”) (PDF 324 kb)
10021_2016_9992_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (1.4 mb)
Supplemental Figure 4 Heatmap of mineral levels in soils along the MFTG chronosequence. The 2008 terminus is at the bottom of the figure and 1954 terminus is at the top (PDF 1470 kb)
10021_2016_9992_MOESM5_ESM.docx (125 kb)
Supplemental Table 1 List of sampling sites and the variables that were measured at each site. Blanks indicate that the analysis was not done on that sample. Zeros indicate that the value was below detection limits for the instrument used. Units for each variable are as follows: nmol h−1 gC−1 for the enzymes phosphatase, LAP, NAG, BG, etc, µgN g soil−1 for IN and DON, percent of dry soil for TON, TOC and pyrite, and ngN cm−2 hr−1 for N-fixation (DOCX 124 kb)
10021_2016_9992_MOESM6_ESM.pdf (162 kb)
Supplemental Table 2 Pairwise correlation matrix of all possible combinations among measured variables. Correlation coefficients (r) were calculated for each pair of environmental variables. Because not all environmental variables were measured at every sample site, more data points were used for some correlations and less for others. P-values for correlations were corrected for multiple testing using the false discovery rate approach (an asterisk indicates a P<0.05) (PDF 162 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • S. K. Schmidt
    • 1
    Email author
  • D. Porazinska
    • 1
  • B.-L. Concienne
    • 1
  • J. L. Darcy
    • 1
  • A. J. King
    • 1
  • D. R. Nemergut
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of Colorado, BoulderBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Studies Program and Institute of Arctic and Alpine ResearchUniversity of Colorado, BoulderBoulderUSA

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