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Ecosystem controls on nitrogen fixation in boreal feather moss communities


N fixation in feather moss carpets is maximized in late secondary successional boreal forests; however, there is limited understanding of the ecosystem factors that drive cyanobacterial N fixation in feather mosses with successional stage. We conducted a reciprocal transplant experiment to assess factors in both early and late succession that control N fixation in feather moss carpets dominated by Pleurozium schreberi. In 2003, intact microplots of moss carpets (30 cm × 30 cm × 10–20 cm deep) were excavated from three early secondary successional (41–101 years since last fire) forest sites and either replanted within the same stand or transplanted into one of three late successional (241–356 years since last fire) forest sites and the transverse was done for late successional layers of moss. Moss plots were monitored for changes in N-fixation rates by acetylene reduction (June 2003–September 2005) and changes in the presence of cyanobacteria on moss shoots by microscopy (2004). Forest nutrient status was measured using ionic resin capsules buried in the humus layer. Late successional forests exhibit high rates of N fixation and consistently high numbers of cyanobacteria on moss shoots, but low levels of available N. Conversely, early successional forests have higher N availability and have low rates of N fixation and limited presence of cyanobacteria on moss shoots. Transplantation of moss carpets resulted in a significant shift in presence and activity of cyanobacteria 1 year after initiation of the experiment responding to N fertility differences in early versus late successional forests.

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The authors wish to acknowledge the laboratory assistance of Tricia Burgoyne, Rachel Brimmer, and Clarice Pinã and for the helpful comments of Dr John Pastor and an anonymous reviewer. The authors also greatly appreciate the financial support of Formas and the Kempe Foundation.

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Correspondence to Thomas H. DeLuca.

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Communicated by Tim Seastedt.

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DeLuca, T.H., Zackrisson, O., Gentili, F. et al. Ecosystem controls on nitrogen fixation in boreal feather moss communities. Oecologia 152, 121–130 (2007).

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  • Pleurozium schreberi
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Reciprocal transplant