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Biogeochemistry

, Volume 95, Issue 2–3, pp 215–229 | Cite as

N2 fixing alder (Alnus viridis spp. fruticosa) effects on soil properties across a secondary successional chronosequence in interior Alaska

  • Jennifer S. Mitchell
  • Roger W. RuessEmail author
Article

Abstract

Green alder (Alnus viridis ssp. fruticosa) is a dominant understory shrub during secondary successional development of upland forests throughout interior Alaska, where it contributes substantially to the nitrogen (N) economy through atmospheric N2 fixation. Across a replicated 200+ year old vegetation chronosequence, we tested the hypotheses that green alder has strong effects on soil chemical properties, and that ecosystem-level N inputs via N2 fixation decrease with secondary successional stand development. Across early-, mid-, and late-successional stands, alder created islands of elevated soil N and carbon (C), depleted soil phosphorus (P), and more acidic soils. These effects translated to the stand-level in response to alder stem density. Although neither N2 fixation nor nodule biomass differed among stand types, increases in alder densities with successional time translated to increasing N inputs. Estimates of annual N inputs by A. viridis averaged across the upland chronosequence (6.6 ± 1.2 kg N ha−1 year−1) are substantially less than inputs during early succession by Alnus tenuifolia growing along Alaskan floodplains. However, late-succession upland forests, where densities of A. viridis are highest, may persist for centuries, depending on fire return interval. This pattern of prolonged N inputs to late successional forests contradicts established theory predicting declines in N2-fixation rates and N2-fixer abundance as stands age.

Keywords

Alder Boreal Nitrogen cycling Nitrogen fixation Secondary succession 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We would like to thank the staff at the Institute of Arctic Biology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) for providing logistical support to this project, as well as the staff at the UAF Forest Soils Lab and the UAF Experimental Greenhouse for their assistance. We greatly appreciate the comments and suggestions by Reviewers and the Associate Editor (Karsten Kalbitz), which substantially improved the aricle. Funding for the research was provided by the Bonanza Creek Long-Term Ecological Research program (funded jointly by NSF grant DEB-0423442 and USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station grant PNW01-JV11261952-231). We also thank those who aided in collection of field data for this study, especially J.J. Frost and the various peers, friends and family who helped along the way.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Arctic BiologyUniversity of Alaska, FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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