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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2011

Response of feather moss associated N-2 fixation and litter decomposition to variations in simulated rainfall intensity and frequency

Jackson, Benjamin; Martin, Pablo; Nilsson Hegethorn, Marie-Charlotte; Wardle, David


Feather mosses in boreal forests form a dense ground-cover that is an important driver of both nutrient and carbon cycling. While moss growth is highly sensitive to moisture availability, little is known about how moss effects on nutrient and carbon cycling are affected by the dynamics of moisture input to the ecosystem. We experimentally investigated how rainfall regimes affected ecosystem processes driven by the dominant boreal feather moss Pleurozium schreberi by manipulating total moisture amount, frequency of moisture addition and moss presence/absence. Moisture treatments represented the range of rainfall conditions that occur in Swedish boreal forests as well as shifts in rainfall expected through climate change. We found that nitrogen (N) fixation by cyanobacteria in feather mosses (the main biological N input to boreal forests) was strongly influenced by both moisture amount and frequency, and their interaction; increased frequency had greater effects when amounts were higher. Within a given moisture amount, N fixation varied up to seven-fold depending on how that amount was distributed temporally. We also found that mosses promoted vascular litter decomposition rates, concentrations of litter nutrients, and active soil microbial biomass, and reduced N release into soil solution. These effects were usually strongest under low moisture amount and/or frequency, and revealed a buffering effect of mosses on the decomposer subsystem under moisture limitation. These results highlight that both the amount and temporal distribution of rainfall, determine the effect of feather mosses on ecosystem N input and the decomposer subsystem. They also emphasize the role of feather mosses in mediating moisture effects on decomposer processes. Finally, our results suggest that projected shifts in precipitation in the Swedish boreal forest through climate change will result in increased moss growth and N-2 fixation but a reduced dependency of the decomposer subsystem on feather moss cover for moisture retention.

Published in

2011, Volume: 120, number: 4, pages: 570-581