• Fifteen years of N and P fertilizer addition to an Alaskan moist tundra increased aboveground biomass and primary production by 2.5 times. Species composition of the fertilized vegetation also changed dramatically, from a mix of graminoid, evergreen, deciduous, and moss species to strong dominance by a single, deciduous shrub species, Betula nana. Analysis of these simultaneous changes allows insights into the interactions between changes in resource availability and changes in species composition in regulating vegetation biomass, production, and element use. By the 15th year (1995), both new leaf production and total leaf mass were lower in fertilized than in control plots, although leaf area in fertilized plots was twice that of controls. This occurred because Betula produced thinner leaves than other species, with a high specific leaf area (SLA, leaf area per unit leaf mass). Woody stem mass also increased dramatically in fertilized plots, with secondary growth accounting for over half of aboveground net primary production, NPP. The large increase in wood production was made possible, in part, by the low cost of production of Betula‚Äôs thin leaves, allowing greater allocation to secondary growth. Wood also had lower N concentrations than leaves, allowing large accumulations of wood at low N cost. Overall, aboveground N concentration in Betula did not change in fertilized relative to control plots, because its low-N wood mass increased more than its high-N leaf mass (with high SLA). Because Betula was so strongly dominant an the fertilized plots and was better able to dilute its greater N supply with new growth, community production and biomass in fertilized plots were higher, and N concentration was lower, than would have been the case if species composition had not changed. Aboveground biomass and leaf area of individual species and functional types were predicted accurately by regression against the number of hits per point-frame pin across the full range of data, including both treatments. Changes in overall canopy structure and leaf display due to fertilization were thus due mainly to changes in species composition, with no detectable effect of treatment on size/structure relationships within species or functional types.

publication date

  • November 2001