Plant and Soil

, Volume 344, Issue 1–2, pp 335–346 | Cite as

Bryophyte-cyanobacterial associations as a key factor in N2-fixation across the Canadian Arctic

  • Katherine J. Stewart
  • Eric G. Lamb
  • Darwyn S. Coxson
  • Steven D. Siciliano
Regular Article


Nitrogen inputs via biological N2-fixation are important in arctic environments where N often limits plant productivity. An understanding of the direct and indirect theoretical causal relationships between key intercorrelated variables that drive the process of N2-fixation is essential to understanding N input. An exploratory multi-group Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) approach was used to examine the direct and indirect effects of soil moisture, plant community functional composition, and bryophyte and lichen abundance on rates of nitrogen fixation at a low arctic ecosystem, two high arctic oases and a high arctic polar desert in the Canadian Arctic. Increasing soil moisture was strongly associated with an increasing presence of bryophytes and increasing bryophyte abundance was a major factor determining higher N2-fixation rates at all sites. Shrubs had a negative effect on bryophyte abundance at all sites with the exception of the polar desert site at Alexandra Fjord highland. The importance of competition from vascular plants appears to be greater in more productive sites and may increase at lower latitudes. Moisture availability may have an indirect effect on ecosystem development by affecting N input into the system with bryophyte-cyanobacterial associations playing an important intermediary role in the process.


Arctic Biological Soil Crust Bryophyte Climate change Cyanobacteria Lichen Nitrogen fixation Polar desert 



We thank Ian Snape, Greg Henry, Alanna DeBusschere and Rebecca Carmichael for assistance in the field and lab. This study was supported by the International Polar Year 2007–2008 in collaboration with Climate Change Impacts on Canadian Arctic Tundra (CiCAT) project and an NSERC post-doctoral fellowship to E.G.L.

Supplementary material

11104_2011_750_MOESM1_ESM.doc (240 kb)
Online Resource 1 Description of variables included in the structural equation model and full model results including direct and indirect effects and unstandardized path coefficients. (DOC 240 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Katherine J. Stewart
    • 1
  • Eric G. Lamb
    • 2
  • Darwyn S. Coxson
    • 1
  • Steven D. Siciliano
    • 3
  1. 1.Ecosystem Science and ManagementUniversity of Northern British ColumbiaPrince GeorgeCanada
  2. 2.Department of Plant SciencesUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  3. 3.Department of Soil ScienceUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada

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