3 years ago

N2 fixation associated with the bryophyte layer is suppressed by low levels of nitrogen deposition in boreal forests

Maija Salemaa, Antti-jussi Lindroos, Päivi Merilä, Raisa Mäkipää, Aino Smolander

Publication date: 25 February 2019

Source: Science of The Total Environment, Volume 653

Author(s): Maija Salemaa, Antti-Jussi Lindroos, Päivi Merilä, Raisa Mäkipää, Aino Smolander


Biological fixation of atmospheric nitrogen (N2) by bryophyte-associated cyanobacteria is an important source of plant-available N in the boreal biome. Information on the factors that drive biological N2 fixation (BNF) rates is needed in order to understand the N dynamics of forests under a changing climate. We assessed the potential of several cryptogam species (the feather mosses Hylocomium splendens and Pleurozium schreberi, a group of Dicranum bryophytes, two liverworts, and Cladina lichens) to serve as associates of cyanobacteria or other N2-fixing bacteria (diazotrophs) using acetylene reduction assay (ARA). We tested the hypotheses that the legacy of chronic atmospheric N deposition reduces BNF in the three bryophyte species, sampled from 12 coniferous forests located at latitudes 60–68° N in Finland. In addition, we tested the effect of moisture and temperature on BNF. All species studied showed a BNF signal in the north, with the highest rates in feather mosses. In moss samples taken along the north–south gradient with an increasing N bulk deposition from 0.8 to 4.4 kg ha−1 year−1, we found a clear decrease in BNF in both feather mosses and Dicranum group. BNF turned off at N deposition of 3–4 kg ha−1 year−1. Inorganic N (NH4-N + NO3-N) best predicted the BNF rate among regression models with different forms of N deposition as explanatory variables. However, in southern spruce stands, tree canopies modified the N in throughfall so that dissolved organic N (DON) leached from canopies compensated for inorganic N retained therein. Here, both DON and inorganic N negatively affected BNF in H. splendens. In laboratory experiments, BNF increased with increasing temperature and moisture. Our results suggest that even relatively low N deposition suppresses BNF in bryophyte-associated diazotrophs. Further, BNF could increase in northern low-deposition areas, especially if climate warming leads to moister conditions, as predicted.

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