Plant and Soil

, Volume 301, Issue 1–2, pp 65–76 | Cite as

Shift in soil–plant nitrogen dynamics of an alpine–nival ecotone

  • Edith Huber
  • Wolfgang Wanek
  • Michael Gottfried
  • Harald Pauli
  • Peter Schweiger
  • Stefan K. Arndt
  • Karl Reiter
  • Andreas Richter
Regular Article


We investigated the nitrogen (N) dynamics of an alpine–nival ecotone on Mt. Schrankogel, Tyrol, Austria, in relation to temperature. Natural abundance of 15N was used as a tool to elucidate differences in N cycling along an altitudinal transect ranging from 2,906 to 3,079 m, corresponding to a gradient in mean annual temperature of 2.4 °C. The amount of total soil N, of plant available N and soil C/N ratio decreased significantly with increasing altitude, whereas soil pH increased. Soil δ 15N decreased with increasing altitude from +2.2 to −2.1‰ and δ 15N of plant tissues (roots and leaves) decreased from −3.7 to −5.5‰. The large shift in soil δ 15N of 4.3‰ from the lowest to the highest site suggested substantial differences in N cycling in alpine and nival ecosystems in the alpine nival ecotone investigated. We concluded that N cycling at the alpine–nival ecotone is likely to be controlled by various factors: temperature, soil age and development, atmospheric N deposition and plant competition. Our results furthermore demonstrate that the alpine–nival ecotone may serve as a sensitive indicator of global change.


Climate change High mountains Mineralization Nitrification Stable isotopes Temperature Radiocarbon 



We are highly grateful to Alexandra Kaniak and Angelika Kaufmann for help in the field and Tina Bell and Ansgar Kahmen for comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. We further acknowledge the University of Vienna for travel funds to A. Richter and W. Wanek.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edith Huber
    • 1
    • 2
  • Wolfgang Wanek
    • 1
  • Michael Gottfried
    • 3
  • Harald Pauli
    • 3
  • Peter Schweiger
    • 4
  • Stefan K. Arndt
    • 2
  • Karl Reiter
    • 3
  • Andreas Richter
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Chemical Ecology and Ecosystem ResearchUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  2. 2.School of Forest and Ecosystem ScienceThe University of MelbourneVictoriaAustralia
  3. 3.Department of Conservation Biology, Vegetation and Landscape EcologyUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  4. 4.Department of Forest and Soil ScienceUniversity of Natural Resources and Applied Life SciencesViennaAustria

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