The ecological role of moss in a polar desert: implications for aboveground–belowground and terrestrial–aquatic linkages
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The McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica is one of the coldest and driest habitats on the planet. As vascular plants are absent in this region, moss is the main form of aboveground primary production with a potentially important contribution to biogeochemical cycling, yet little is known about their ecological role. To determine the relationship between moss and soil properties relevant to biogeochemistry, we sampled both from a variety of locations in the Dry Valleys. Moss presence was compared to soil properties, and we measured the plasticity of moss stoichiometry (C:N:P) across gradients in nutrient availability. Results demonstrate that many soil properties significantly differed with moss presence, particularly conductivity and pH, but there is no strong evidence that this is caused by the moss presence and not the conditions inherent to the microsites where moss was found. There is great variability in moss stoichiometry, with some significant differences between sites, but generally variability within sites is larger than variation among sites. Results suggest that the main source of moss nutrients is from the soil, rather than water, but correlations with any one nutrient source are weak, suggesting a great deal of plasticity in moss stoichiometry and nutrient uptake.
KeywordsAboveground–belowground interactions Terrestrial–aquatic interface Moss Stoichiometry McMurdo Dry Valleys Polar desert Antarctica
This research was supported by NSF Division of Environmental Biology and Office of Polar Programs Grants to the McMurdo LTER (ANT-0423595), as well as research awards from the New College of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences at ASU. We thank students Jen Bagby, Jennifer Bailard, Aaron Cappelli, Katie Moerlein, and Elizabeth Traver for their help in the field and lab, as well as Satoshi Ishii for providing additional moss distribution data. Logistic support was provided by Raytheon Polar Services and Petroleum Helicopters, Inc. Paul Zietz at Dartmouth and Cathy Kochert, Roy Erickson, and Sara Ryan at the Goldwater Environmental Lab (ASU) provided analytical services. Inigo San Gil produced the distribution maps.
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