Host Identity as a Driver of Moss-Associated N2 Fixation Rates in Alaska

Published by Gavin Huffman on

Moss-associated N2 fixation provides a substantial but heterogeneous input of new N to nutrient-limited ecosystems at high latitudes. In spite of the broad diversity of mosses found in boreal and Arctic ecosystems, the extent to which host moss identity drives variation in N2 fixation rates remains largely undetermined. We used 15N2 incubations to quantify the fixation rates associated with 34 moss species from 24 sites ranging from 60° to 68° N in Alaska, USA. Remarkably, all sampled moss genera fixed N2, including well-studied feather and peat mosses and genera such as Tomentypnum, Dicranum, and Polytrichum. The total moss-associated N2 fixation rates ranged from almost zero to 3.2 mg N m−2 d−1, with an average of 0.8 mg N m−2 d−1, based on abundance-weighted averages of all mosses summed for each site. Random forest models indicated that moss taxonomic family was a better predictor of rate variation across Alaska than any of the measured environmental factors, including site, pH, tree density, and mean annual precipitation and temperature. Consistent with this finding, mixed models showed that trends in N2 fixation rates among moss genera were consistent across biomes. We also found “hotspots” of high fixation rates in one-fourth of sampled sites. Our results demonstrated the importance of moss identity in influencing N2 fixation rates. This in turn indicates the potential utility of moss identity when making ecosystem N input predictions and exploring other sources of process rate variation.