Isotopic analysis of cyanobacterial nitrogen fixation associated with subarctic lichen and bryophyte species
Dinitrogen fixation by cyanobacteria is of particular importance for the nutrient economy of cold biomes, constituting the main pathway for new N supplies to tundra ecosystems. It is prevalent in cyanobacterial colonies on bryophytes and in obligate associations within cyanolichens. Recent studies, applying interspecific variation in plant functional traits to upscale species effects on ecosystems, have all but neglected cryptogams and their association with cyanobacteria. Here we looked for species-specific patterns that determine cryptogam-mediated rates of N-2 fixation in the Subarctic. We hypothesised a contrast in N-2 fixation rates (1) between the structurally and physiologically different lichens and bryophytes, and (2) within bryophytes based on their respective plant functional types. Throughout the survey we supplied N-15-labelled N-2 gas to quantify fixation rates for monospecific moss, liverwort and lichen turfs. We sampled fifteen species in a design that captures spatial and temporal variations during the growing season in Abisko region, Sweden. We measured N-2 fixation potential of each turf in a common environment and in its field sampling site, in order to embrace both comparativeness and realism. Cyanolichens and bryophytes differed significantly in their cyanobacterial N-2 fixation capacity, which was not driven by microhabitat characteristics, but rather by morphology and physiology. Cyanolichens were much more prominent fixers than bryophytes per unit dry weight, but not per unit area due to their low specific thallus weight. Mosses did not exhibit consistent differences in N-2 fixation rates across species and functional types. Liverworts did not fix detectable amounts of N-2. Despite the very high rates of N-2 fixation associated with cyanolichens, large cover of mosses per unit area at the landscape scale compensates for their lower fixation rates, thereby probably making them the primary regional atmospheric nitrogen sink.
Record created on 2011-12-16, modified on 2016-08-09