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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Contrasting plant-soil-microbial feedbacks stabilize vegetation types and uncouple topsoil C and N stocks across a subarctic-alpine landscape

Lindahl, Björn; Castaño Soler, Carles; Hallin, Sara; Egelkraut, Dagmar; Lindahl, Björn; Olofsson, Johan; Clemmensen, Karina Engelbrecht


  • Global vegetation regimes vary in belowground carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) dynamics. However, disentangling large-scale climatic controls from effects of intrinsic plant-soil-microbial feedbacks on belowground processes is challenging. In local gradients with similar pedo-climatic conditions, effects of plant-microbial feedbacks may be isolated from large-scale drivers.
  • Across a subarctic-alpine mosaic of historic grazing fields and surrounding heath and birch forest, we evaluated whether vegetation-specific plant-microbial feedbacks involved contrasting N cycling characteristics and C and N stocks in the organic topsoil. We sequenced soil fungi, quantified functional genes within the inorganic N cycle, and measured 15N natural abundance.
  • In grassland soils, large N stocks and low C/N ratios associated with fungal saprotrophs, archaeal ammonia oxidizers and bacteria capable of respiratory ammonification, indicating maintained inorganic N cycling a century after abandoned reindeer grazing. Towards forest and heath, increasing abundance of mycorrhizal fungi co-occurred with transition to organic N cycling. However, ectomycorrhizal fungal decomposers correlated with small soil N and C stocks in forest, while root-associated ascomycetes associated with small N but large C stocks in heath, uncoupling C and N storage across vegetation types.
  • We propose that contrasting, positive plant-microbial feedbacks stabilize vegetation trajectories, resulting in diverging soil C/N at the landscape scale.

Published in

New Phytologist
2023, Volume: 238, number: 6, pages: 2621-2633