Plant and Soil

, Volume 294, Issue 1–2, pp 147–155 | Cite as

Enhanced soil fertility under Juniperus communis in arctic ecosystems

Regular Article


Patches of common juniper (Juniperus communis L.) shrubs potentially facilitate the formation of fertile islands in heath tundra ecosystems thereby influencing the long-term resilience of these ecosystems. Although the role of juniper in the formation of such ‘islands of fertility’ has been studied in semiarid landscapes, there has been little attention paid to the importance of juniper in other ecosystems. In this study we contrast the soil fertility and rates of N fixation under juniper shrubs with that in open heath tundra in northern Sweden. Plots were established at several individual sites in alpine heath tundra in Northern Sweden and mineral soils to a depth of 10 cm were characterized for available N and P and total C, N, P, Ca, Mg, K, Fe, Mn, Zn, and Cu. Nitrogen fixation rates were measured by acetylene reduction in feather mosses under juniper canopies and contrasted with N fixation in both feather mosses and surface soils in the open heath. Soils under juniper had concentrations of total P greatly in excess of P in open heath, furthermore, juniper islands had the highest concentrations of bioavailable P. Nitrogen fixation rates in the feather moss Pleurozium schreberi (Bird.) Mitt were approximately 150 μmol acetylene reduced m−2 d−1 under the juniper canopy compared to less than 10 μmol acetylene reduced m−2 d−1 in the open heath. Feather mosses under the juniper canopy also fixed N at a significantly higher rate (on an aerial basis) than that of surface cores from the open heath that included lichen, mosses, and soil crusts. Juniper facilitates the formation of islands of soil fertility that may in turn facilitate the growth of other plants and positively influence the long term recovery of heath tundra ecosystems following disturbance.


Juniper Feather moss Cyanobacteria Nitrogen fixation Fertile islands Tundra 



The authors wish to thank Tricia Burgoyne, Rachel Brimmer, Clarice Pina, and Michael Gundale for laboratory assistance and two anonymous reviewers for their comments on this manuscript. This work was funded in part by grants from Formas and the Bank of Sweden Tercentenary Foundation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ecology and Economics Research DepartmentThe Wilderness SocietyBozemanUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest Vegetation EcologySwedish University of Agricultural SciencesUmeaSweden

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