The effect of altered macroclimate on N-fixation by boreal feather mosses

Biol Lett. 2012 Oct 23;8(5):805-8. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0429. Epub 2012 Jun 13.


Plant productivity is predicted to increase in boreal forests owing to climate change, but this may depend on whether N inputs from biological N-fixation also increases. We evaluated how alteration of climatic factors affects N input from a widespread boreal N-fixer, i.e. cyanobacteria associated with the feather moss Pleurozium schreberi. In each of 10 forest stands in northern Sweden, we established climate-change plots, including a control (ambient climate) plot and three plots experiencing a +2°C temperature increase, an approximately threefold reduction in precipitation frequency, and either 0.07, 0.29 or 1.16 times normal summer precipitation. We monitored N-fixation in these plots five times between 2007 and 2009, and three times in 2010 after climate treatments ended to assess their recovery. Warmer temperatures combined with less frequent precipitation reduced feather moss moisture content and N-fixation rates regardless of total precipitation. After climate treatments ended, recovery of N-fixation rates occurred on the scale of weeks to months, suggesting resilience of N-fixation to changes in climatic conditions. These results suggest that modelling of biological N-inputs in boreal forests should emphasize precipitation frequency and evaporative water loss in conjunction with elevated temperature rather than absolute changes in mean precipitation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bryophyta / physiology*
  • Climate
  • Cyanobacteria / physiology*
  • Ecology
  • Kinetics
  • Models, Biological
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Plants / metabolism*
  • Rain
  • Seasons
  • Sweden
  • Temperature
  • Trees