• Nitrogen cycling at treeline: latitudinal and elevational patterns across the boreal landscape

      Loomis, Patricia Frances (2005-05)
      We studied spatial and temporal patterns of soil nitrogen pools and fluxes at treeline and forested sites within three Alaskan mountain ranges along a latitudinal transect of 785 km during 2001- 2002. We measured soil temperatures, pools of soil mineral (ammonium and nitrate) and organic (amino acid and microbial biomass) nitrogen, in situ rates of net mineralization, net nitrification, and net amino acid production, conducted a decomposition experiment at all sites using common litter, and studied soil carbon turnover in a laboratory incubation experiment. Soils at treeline were colder than forested soils, particularly during fall and over winter, and had reduced rates of nitrogen cycling and litter decomposition relative to soils in forested stands. During incubation, treeline soils had lower respiration rates per unit carbon, suggesting lower soil organic matter quality relative to forested soils. 70% of annual net nitrogen mineralization occurred from August-May, suggesting that fall and winter are critical periods for soil nitrogen transformations in forested and treeline ecosystems. Among mountain ranges, nitrogen pools and fluxes were similar, despite variation in growing season length and mean annual temperatures. Soil moisture and organic matter quality may have stronger effects on variation in nitrogen cycling than temperature at our sites.