Plant–soil interactions alter nitrogen and phosphorus dynamics in an advancing subarctic treeline

Fetzer J., Moiseev P., Frossard E., Kaiser K., Mayer M., Gavazov K. & Hagedorn F.
Global Change Biology
30: e17200 [18 p.]
Treelines advance due to climate warming. The impacts of this vegetation shift on plant–soil nutrient cycling are still uncertain, yet highly relevant as nutrient availability stimulates tree growth. Here, we investigated nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) in plant and soil pools along two tundra–forest transects on Kola Peninsula, Russia, with a documented elevation shift of birch-dominated treeline by 70 m during the last 50 years. Results show that although total N and P stocks in the soil–plant system did not change with elevation, their distribution was significantly altered. With the transition from high-elevation tundra to low-elevation forest, P stocks in stones decreased, possibly reflecting enhanced weathering. In contrast, N and P stocks in plant biomass approximately tripled and available P and N in the soil increased fivefold toward the forest. This was paralleled by decreasing carbon (C)-to-nutrient ratios in foliage and litter, smaller C:N:P ratios in microbial biomass, and lower enzymatic activities related to N and P acquisition in forest soils. An incubation experiment further demonstrated manifold higher N and P net mineralization rates in litter and soil in forest compared to tundra, likely due to smaller C:N:P ratios in decomposing organic matter. Overall, our results show that forest expansion increases the mobilization of available nutrients through enhanced weathering and positive plant–soil feedback, with nutrient-rich forest litter releasing greater amounts of N and P upon decomposition. While the low N and P availability in tundra may retard treeline advances, its improvement toward the forest likely promotes tree growth and forest development. Keywords: biogeochemistry, climate change, elevation gradient, extracellular enzymatic activity, forest, microbial biomass, nutrient cycling, stoichiometry, tundra.
Friday, 15 March 2024 12:16