Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 55, Issue 8, pp 801–811 | Cite as

Seasonal shifting in the absorption pattern of alpine species for NO3 and NH4+ on the Tibetan Plateau

  • Jiangtao Hong
  • Xiaojing Qin
  • Xingxing Ma
  • Xin Xu
  • Xiaodan WangEmail author
Original Paper


Using an 15N labelling method (15N-NH4+ and 15N-NO3), we conducted a time series experiment of N absorption for two common plant species (Stipa purpurea and Artemisia nanschanica) in three seasons (summer, late autumn, and early spring) in a semi-arid alpine steppe ecosystem on the Tibetan Plateau. The soil NO3 content was significantly higher than the exchangeable NH4+ content in summer, whereas exchangeable NH4+ was the dominant inorganic form of N during the cold seasons (late autumn and early spring). Both S. purpurea and A. nanschanica showed a preference for NO3 in summer. The uptake rates of NO3 ranged from 1.09 to 3.94 μg 15N g−1 DW root h−1 for S. purpurea and from 2.85 to 7.82 μg 15N g−1 DW root h−1 for A. nanschanica. In contrast, both species showed a clear preference for NH4+ during the late autumn and early spring, which was strongly dependent on snowfall events. The uptake rate of NH4+ ranged from 0.33 to 4.25 μg 15N g−1 DW root h−1 for S. purpurea and from 0.67 to 9.05 μg 15N g−1 DW root h−1 for A. nanschanica. We also observed that 15N recovery was mainly retained in the roots with a smaller proportion of 15N stored in the shoots across all seasons. The seasonal shift in the pattern of N absorption may be influenced by changes in the ratios of soil exchangeable NH4+ to NO3 in the different seasons. This finding offers valuable insights into the nutrient acquisition strategies of alpine plants and provides an important mechanism for the temporal pattern of N utilisation by plants in alpine environments.


Nitrogen uptake Nitrogen forms Nitrogen recovery Seasonal variation Alpine steppe 



We thank the anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on the manuscript.

Funding information

This research was supported by Strategic Priority Research Program of Chinese Academic of Science (XDA20020401), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41701343), the STS of Chinese Academy of Sciences (KFJ-STS-QYZD-075), the State Key Research Development Program of China (2016YFC0502002), and the Chinese Academy of Sciences Light of West China program (2017–2019).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jiangtao Hong
    • 1
  • Xiaojing Qin
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xingxing Ma
    • 3
  • Xin Xu
    • 1
    • 2
  • Xiaodan Wang
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Institute of Mountain Hazards and EnvironmentChinese Academy of SciencesChengduChina
  2. 2.University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingChina
  3. 3.College of Urban and Environment SciencesShanxi Normal UniversityLinfenChina

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