Nitrogen dynamics in arctic tundra soils of varying age: differential responses to fertilization and warming. Academic Article uri icon


  • In the foothills of the Brooks Range, Alaska, different glaciation histories have created landscapes with varying soil age. Productivity of most of these landscapes is generally N limited, but varies widely, as do plant species composition and soil properties (e.g., pH). We hypothesized that the projected changes in productivity and vegetation composition under a warmer climate might be mediated through differential changes in N availability across soil age. We compared readily available [water-soluble NH4 (+), NO3 (-), and amino acids (AA)], moderately available (soluble proteins), hydrolyzable, and total N pools across three tussock-tundra landscapes with soil ages ranging from 11.5k to 300k years. The effects of fertilization and warming on these N pools were also compared for the two younger sites. Readily available N was highest at the oldest site, and AA accounted for 80-89 % of this N. At the youngest site, inorganic N constituted the majority (80-97 %) of total readily available N. This variation reflected the large differences in plant functional group composition and soil chemical properties. Long-term (8-16 years) fertilization increased the soluble inorganic N by 20- to 100-fold at the intermediate-age site, but only by twofold to threefold at the youngest site. Warming caused small and inconsistent changes in the soil C:N ratio and AA, but only in soils beneath Eriophorum vaginatum, the dominant tussock-forming sedge. These differential responses suggest that the ecological consequences of warmer climates on these tundra ecosystems are more complex than simply elevated N-mineralization rates, and that the responses of landscapes might be impacted by soil age, or time since deglaciation.

publication date

  • December 2013