Skip to main content
Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2009

Nitrogen fixation in mixed Hylocomium splendens moss communities

Zackrisson, O.; DeLuca, T. H.; Gentili, F.; Sellstedt, A.; Jaderlund, A.


The pleurocarpus feather moss, Hylocomium splendens, is one of two co-dominant moss species in boreal forest ecosystems and one of the most common mosses on earth, yet little is known regarding its capacity to host cyanobacterial associates and thus contribute total ecosystem N. In these studies, we evaluated the N-fixation potential of the H. splendens-cyanobacteria association and contrasted the N-fixation activity with that of the putative N-fixing moss-cyanobacteria association of Pleurozium schreberi. Studies were conducted to: quantify N-fixation in H. splendens and P. schreberi in sites ranging from southern to northern Fennoscandia; assess N and P availability as drivers of N-fixation rates; contrast season-long N-fixation rates for both mosses; and characterize the cyanobacteria that colonize shoots of H. splendens. Nitrogen-fixation rates were generally low at southern latitudes and higher at northern latitudes (64-69A degrees N) potentially related to anthropogenic N deposition across this gradient. Nitrogen fixation in H. splendens appeared to be less sensitive to N deposition than P. schreberi. The season-long assessment of N-fixation rates at a mixed feather moss site in northern Sweden showed that H. splendens fixed a substantial quantity of N, but about 50% less total N compared to the contribution from P. schreberi. In total, both species provided 1.6 kg fixed N ha(-1) year(-1). Interestingly, H. splendens demonstrated somewhat higher N-fixation rates at high fertility sites compared to P. schreberi. Nostoc spp. and Stigonema spp. were the primary cyanobacteria found to colonize H. splendens and P. schreberi. These results suggest that H. splendens with associated Nostoc or Stigonema communities contributes a significant quantity of N to boreal forest ecosystems, but the contribution is subordinate to that of P. schreberi at northern latitudes. Epiphytic cyanobacteria are likely a key factor determining the co-dominant presence of these two feather mosses across the boreal biome.


Feather moss; Nitrogen; Boreal ecosystems; Pleurozium schreberi

Published in

2009, volume: 160, number: 2, pages: 309-319

Authors' information

Zackrisson, Olle
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Gentili, Francesco
Sellstedt, Anita
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management

UKÄ Subject classification

Environmental Sciences related to Agriculture and Land-use

Publication Identifiers


URI (permanent link to this page)