Decadal-scale decoupling of soil phosphorus and molybdenum cycles by temperate nitrogen-fixing trees

Abstract

Symbiotic nitrogen- (N) fixing trees can influence multiple biogeochemical cycles by fixing atmospheric N, which drives net primary productivity and soil carbon (C) and N accumulation, as well as by mobilizing soil phosphorus (P) and other nutrients to support growth and metabolism. The soil micronutrient molybdenum (Mo) is essential to N-fixation, yet surprisingly little is known of whether N-fixing trees alter soil Mo cycling, and if changes to soil Mo are coupled to soil C, N, and P. We compared how symbiotic N-fixing red alder and non-N-fixing Douglas-fir trees modified surface soil C, N, P, and Mo across variation in climate and other site factors in the Pacific Northwest. We found that after two decades, N-fixing trees drove coupled increases in surface soil C, N, total P, and organic P. Consistent with contributions of N-fixing trees to soil organic matter, increased soil C and N were accompanied by lower δ13C in all sites, and lower δ15N in sites where non-fixer plots exhibited elevated soil δ15N. However, N-fixing trees did not affect surface soil Mo concentrations or fractions, suggesting that different factors control the cycling of P versus Mo over decadal timescales. Random forest analysis revealed that surface soil P was most strongly influenced by factors related to soil C accumulation, whereas surface soil Mo was related primarily to environmental factors, including potential differences in atmospheric Mo deposition across sites. Ratios of surface soil P:Mo were higher in extractable pools than in total soil digests, reinforcing the idea of stronger biotic cycling of P than Mo. Overall, our multi-site, multi-decadal field study found surprisingly small effects of N-fixing trees on soil Mo, despite rapid increases in soil organic C, N, and P. We hypothesize that, rather than direct effects of N-fixing vegetation, abiotic or indirect biotic factors such as soil sorption of atmospheric Mo inputs can link C–N–P–Mo cycles in terrestrial ecosystems on longer timescales.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Hardwood Silviculture Cooperative at Oregon State University for their foresight in establishing and maintaining the study sites, Andy Bluhm for sample collection, and Chris Catricala and Kecia Jones for assistance with sample processing. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program (NSF-GRFP) under Grant No. DGE-1148897 awarded to KAD, and by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Internship Program (NSF-GRIP). Any findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Coordination of GRIP at USGS is through the Youth and Education in Science programs within the Office of Science Quality and Integrity. Any use of trade, firm, or product names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. Additional support was through NSF Grant Nos. EAR-1053470 to JP-R and DEB-1457650 to SSP.

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Dynarski, K.A., Pett-Ridge, J.C. & Perakis, S.S. Decadal-scale decoupling of soil phosphorus and molybdenum cycles by temperate nitrogen-fixing trees. Biogeochemistry 149, 355–371 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-020-00680-9

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Keywords

  • Molybdenum
  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Frankia
  • Alnus rubra
  • Pseudotsuga menzieseii
  • Soil organic matter