Plant and Soil

, Volume 334, Issue 1–2, pp 409–421 | Cite as

Soil microbial and plant community responses to single large carbon and nitrogen additions in low arctic tundra

  • Carolyn Churchland
  • Liesha Mayo-Bruinsma
  • Alison Ronson
  • Paul Grogan
Regular Article


Plant production and community composition in many mid- and high latitude ecosystems is strongly controlled by nitrogen (N) availability. We investigated the effects of large factorial additions of labile carbon (C) (sucrose) and N (NH4NO3) in a single year on soil microbial and plant biomass pools over subsequent years in a widespread low arctic mesic tundra ecosystem. Soil microbes took up large amounts of N within weeks of its addition, and this accumulation was maintained over at least 2 years. Microbial biomass C was unaffected, strongly suggesting that the addition had rapidly elevated microbial N concentrations (by ∼50%). Microbial biomass N and root N (per unit soil volume) decreased with depth down through the organic and mineral layers in all treatments, indicating that most of the added N was retained within the top 5 cm of the organic layer 2 years after the additions. In contrast to N, the C additions had no significant effects. Finally, plant shoot N concentrations 3 years after the additions were significantly enhanced primarily in the evergreen species which dominate this ecosystem-type, resulting in a ∼50% increase in evergreen shoot N accumulation but no corresponding change in biomass. Our study demonstrates a very rapid and substantial microbial N sink capacity that is likely to be particularly important in determining N availability to plants over weekly to annual timescales in this tundra ecosystem. Furthermore, the results suggest that the moderate increases in tundra soil N supply expected due to climate warming could be largely immobilized by microbes, resulting in slower and more evergreen-dominated plant community responses than are predicted from long-term, annually repeated, high-level fertilisation studies.


Biomass Competition Evergreen Graminoid Nitrogen immobilization Soil depth Tundra 



We thank Meghan Laidlaw for harvesting and sorting the plant biomass and Linda Cameron for assistance with sample analyses. We are grateful to Kate Buckeridge, Haiyan Chu, and several reviewers for many very helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. Many thanks to Peter Lafleur and Greg Henry for scientific support, and especially to Steve Matthews and Karin Clark of the Division of Environment and Natural Resources, G.N.W.T. for logistical assistance. Financed by NSERC, CFCAS and DIAND.

Supplementary material

11104_2010_392_MOESM1_ESM.doc (45 kb)
Table S1 (DOC 45 kb)


  1. Allen SE (1989) Chemical analysis of ecological material. Blackwell Scientific, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  2. Brookes PC, Landman A, Pruden G, Jenkinson DS (1985) Chloroform fumigation and the release of soil-nitrogen—a rapid direct extraction method to measure microbial biomass nitrogen in soil. Soil Biol Biochem 17:837–842CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brooks PD, McKnight D, Elder K (2005) Carbon limitation of soil respiration under winter snowpacks: potential feedbacks between growing season and winter carbon fluxes. Glob Chang Biol 11:231–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buckeridge KM, Jefferies RL (2007) Vegetation loss alters soil nitrogen dynamics in an Arctic salt marsh. J Ecol 95:283–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Buckeridge KM, Grogan P (2008) Deepened snow alters soil microbial nutrient limitations in arctic birch hummock tundra. Appl Soil Ecol 39:210–222CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chapin FS III, Shaver GR, Giblin AE, Nadelhoffer KJ, Laundre JA (1995) Responses of arctic tundra to experimental and observed changes in climate. Ecology 76:694–711CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Chapin FS III, Matson PA, Mooney HA (2002) Principles of terrestrial ecosystem ecology. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  8. Ekblad A, Nordgren A (2002) Is growth of soil microorganisms in boreal forests limited by carbon or nitrogen availability? Plant Soil 242:115–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Eskelinen A, Stark S, Mannisto M (2009) Links between plant community composition, soil organic matter quality and microbial communities in contrasting tundra habitats. Oecologia 161:113–123CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Giblin AE, Nadelhoffer KJ, Shaver GR, Laundre JA, McKerrow AJ (1991) Biogeochemical diversity along a riverside toposequence in arctic Alaska. Ecol Monogr 61:415–435CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Griffin DH (1993) Fungal physiology. Wiley-Liss, New York, p 424Google Scholar
  12. Grogan P, Jonasson S (2003) Controls on annual nitrogen cycling in the understorey of a sub-arctic birch forest. Ecology 84:202–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hargreaves SK, Horrigan EJ, Jefferies RL (2009) Seasonal partitioning of resource use and constraints on the growth of soil microbes and a forage grass in a grazed Arctic salt marsh. Plant Soil 322:279–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Hartley IP, Hopkins DW, Sommerkorn M, Wookey PA (2010) The response of organic matter mineralization to nutrient and substrate additions in sub-arctic soils. Soil Biol Biochem 42:92–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Hodge A, Robinson D, Fitter A (2000) Are microorganisms more effective than plants at competing for nitrogen? Trends Plant Sci 5:304–308CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Illeris L, Jonasson S (1999) Soil and plant CO2 emission in response to variations in soil moisture and temperature and to amendment with nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon in northern Scandinavia. Arct Antarct Alp Res 31:264–271CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jenkinson D (1977) The soil microbial biomass. NZ Soil News 25:213–218Google Scholar
  18. Jonasson S, Michelsen A, Schmidt IK, Nielsen EB, Callaghan TV (1996) Microbial biomass C, N and P in two arctic soils and responses to addition of NPK fertilizer and sugar: implications for plant nutrient uptake. Oecologia 106:507–515CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Jonasson S, Michelsen A, Schmidt IK (1999a) Coupling of nutrient cycling and carbon dynamics in the Arctic, integration of soil microbial and plant processes. Appl Soil Ecol 11:135–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Jonasson S, Michelsen A, Schmidt IK, Nielsen EV (1999b) Responses in microbes and plants to changed temperature, nutrient, and light regimes in the arctic. Ecology 80:1828–1843CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Kaye JP, Hart SC (1997) Competition for nitrogen between plants and soil microorganisms. Trends Ecol Evol 12:139–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Klionsky DJ, Herman PK, Emr SD (1990) The fungal vacuole: composition, function, and biogenesis. Microbiol Rev 54:266–292PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Kottke I, Holopainen T, Alanen E, Turnau K (1995) Deposition of nitrogen in vacuolar bodies of Cenococcum geophilum (Fr.) mycorrhizas as detected by electron energy loss spectroscopy. New Phytol 129:411–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lagerström A, Esberg C, Wardle DA, Giesler R (2009) Soil phosphorus and microbi response to a long-term wildfire chronosequence in northern Sweden. Biogeochemistry 95:199–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mack MC, Schuur EAG, Bret-Harte MS, Shaver GR, Chapin FS III (2004) Ecosystem carbon storage in arctic tundra reduced by long-term nutrient fertilization. Nature 431:440–443CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Marion GM, Miller PC, Kummerow J, Oechel WC (1982) Competition for nitrogen in a tussock tundra ecosystem. Plant Soil 66:317–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Michelsen A, Graglia E, Schmidt IK, Jonasson S, Sleep D, Quarmby C (1999) Differential responses of grass and a dwarf shrub to long-term changes in soil microbial biomass C, N and P following factorial addition of NPK fertilizer, fungicide and labile carbon to a heath. New Phytol 143:523–538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Ngai JT, Jefferies RL (2004) Nutrient limitation of plant growth and forage quality in Arctic coastal marshes. J Ecol 92:1001–1010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Nobrega S, Grogan P (2008) Landscape and ecosystem-level controls on net carbon dioxide exchange along a natural moisture gradient in Canadian low arctic tundra. Ecosystems 11:377–396CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Nordin A, Schmidt IK, Shaver GR (2004) Nitrogen uptake by arctic soil microbes and plants in relation to soil nitrogen supply. Ecology 85:955–962CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Obst M, Steinbuchel A (2006) Cyanophycin—an ideal bacterial nitrogen storage material with unique chemical properties. In: Shively JM (ed) Inclusions in prokaryotes. Springer-Verlag, Heidelberg, pp 168–193Google Scholar
  32. Paul EA, Clark FE (1996) Soil Microbiology and biochemistry. Academic, San Diego, p 340Google Scholar
  33. Porsild AE, Cody WJ (1980) Vascular plants of continental Northwest Territories, Canada. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa, p 667Google Scholar
  34. Press MC, Potter JA, Burke MJW, Callaghan TV, Lee JA (1998) Responses of a subarctic dwarf shrub heath community to simulated environmental change. J Ecol 86:315–327CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Rampton VN (2000) Large-scale effects of subglacial meltwater flow in the southern Slave Province, Northwest Territories, Canada. Can J Earth Sci 37:81–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Read DJ (1991) Mycorrhizas in ecosystems. Experientia 47:376–391CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Rinnan R, Michelsen A, Baath E, Jonasson S (2007) Fifteen years of climate change manipulations alter soil microbial communities in a subarctic heath ecosystem. Glob Chang Biol 13:28–39CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Schimel JP, Chapin FS III (1996) Tundra plant uptake of amino acid and NH4+ nitrogen in situ: plants compete well for amino acid N. Ecology 77:2142–2147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Schimel JP, Bennett J (2004) Nitrogen mineralization: challenges of a changing paradigm. Ecology 85:591–602CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Schmidt IK, Jonasson S, Michelsen A, Heal OW (1999) Mineralization and microbial immobilization of N and P in arctic soils in relation to season, temperature and nutrient amendment. Appl Soil Ecol 11:147–160CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Shaver GR, Chapin FS III (1980) Response to fertilization by various plant-growth forms in an Alaskan tundra—nutrient accumulation and growth. Ecology 61:662–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Shaver GR, Chapin FS III (1991) Production—biomass relationships and element cycling in contrasting arctic vegetation types. Ecol Monogr 61:1–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Shaver GR, Chapin FS III (1995) Long-term responses to factorial, NPK fertilizer treatment by Alaskan wet and moist tundra sedge species. Ecography 18:259–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sorensen PL, Clemmensen KE, Michelsen A, Jonasson S, Strom L (2008) Plant and microbial uptake and allocation of organic and inorganic nitrogen related to plant growth forms and soil conditions at two subarctic tundra sites in Sweden. Arctic Antarct Alpine Res 40:171–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Treseder KK (2008) Nitrogen additions and microbial biomass: a meta-analysis of ecosystem studies. Ecol Lett 11:1111–1120CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. von Ende CN (2001) Repeated measures analysis: growth and other time-dependent measures. In: Scheiner SM, Gurevitch J (eds) Design and analysis of ecological experiments. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 134–157Google Scholar
  47. Wardle DA (2002) Communities and ecosystems: linking the aboveground and belowground components. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carolyn Churchland
    • 1
  • Liesha Mayo-Bruinsma
    • 1
  • Alison Ronson
    • 1
  • Paul Grogan
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyQueen’s UniversityKingstonCanada

Personalised recommendations