Plant Ecology

, Volume 219, Issue 7, pp 837–851 | Cite as

Spatial and temporal variation in moss-associated dinitrogen fixation in coniferous- and deciduous-dominated Alaskan boreal forests

  • Mélanie Jean
  • Michelle C. Mack
  • Jill F. Johnstone


Dominant canopy tree species have strong effects on the composition and function of understory species, particularly bryophytes. In boreal forests, bryophytes and their associated microbes are a primary source of ecosystem nitrogen (N) inputs, and an important process regulating ecosystem productivity. We investigated how feather moss-associated N2-fixation rates and contribution to N budgets vary in time and space among coniferous and broadleaf deciduous forests. We measured N2-fixation rates using stable isotope (15N2) labeling in two moss species (Pleurozium schreberi and Hylocomium splendens) in broadleaf deciduous (Alaska paper birch—Betula neoalaskana) and coniferous (black spruce—Picea mariana) stands near Fairbanks, interior Alaska, from 2013 to 2015. N2-fixation rates showed substantial inter-annual variation among the 3 years. High N2-fixation was more strongly associated with high precipitation than air temperature or light availability. Overall, contribution of N2-fixation to N budgets was greater in spruce than in birch stands. Our results enhance the knowledge of the processes that drive N2-fixation in boreal forests, which is important for predicting ecosystem consequences of changing forest composition.


Nitrogen fixation Feather moss Boreal forest Nitrogen cycle Stable isotope 



We thank Alix Conway, Samantha Miller, Patricia Tomchuk, Dominic Olver, Alexandre Truchon-Savard, and Nicolas Boldt for help in the field/lab. Funding came from the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP RC-2109), the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), the Northern Scientific Training Program (NSTP), NASA Ecosystems and Carbon Cycle, the National Science Foundation’s Bonanza Creek Long Term Ecological Research Site program (NSF DEB-1636476), and USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Supplementary material

11258_2018_838_MOESM1_ESM.docx (39 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 39 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Center for Ecosystem Science and Society Flagstaff (AZ)Northern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.Institute of Arctic BiologyUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA

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