Soil N mineralization profiles of co-existing woody vegetation islands at the alpine tree line
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Tree lines form a transition ecotone from forest to tundra both at high elevation and high latitude and occur in a number of different forms. Nitrogen (N) deficiency is considered to be a factor involved in tree line formation, and also N dynamics are considered to differ between the trees and the ericaceous vegetation of the tundra. In the Austrian Alps at the tree line, N availability and N mineralization in soils of different vegetation types (Picea abies, Pinus mugo and Rhododendron ferrugineum) as well as total phenols were determined. Soil from under P. abies was taken from two different tree line forms, an island type and a diffuse type, as well as from P. abies growing at a lower elevation. N mineralization was measured in situ using a covered PVC tube incubation method and in a laboratory incubation under controlled conditions. Ion exchange resin capsules were installed at the interface of humus and mineral soil for estimating N in the soil solution. Net N mineralization showed a similar pattern for the vegetation types for both the in situ and laboratory incubation. The soil humus layer had the highest levels of N mineralization compared to the other soil layers. N mineralization rates were similar in P. abies and P. mugo at the tree line regardless of tree line form. Rates of N mineralization were lower under R. ferrugineum than the tree species, but this lower rate was not related to the occurrence of high levels of total phenols in the soil. Nitrogen deficiency was not evident in the island-type tree line, but was evident in the diffuse tree line type.
KeywordsTree line Soil N mineralization In situ field incubation Soil N availability Resin capsule Woody vegetation islands
We thank the China scholarship council for support of LW (201306600003), and a Marie Curie Grant GPF333996 LINKTOFUN to DG. This work was also supported by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports of CR within the National Sustainability Program NPU I, Grant no. LO1415. We thank the Stift Heiligenkreuz for giving us access to the sites. We thank Frauke Neumann and Marcel Hirsch for technical support, and Christoph Rosinger for help taking the soil samples.
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