Soil Nitrogen Transformations Associated with Small Patterned-Ground Features along a North American Arctic Transect


A. M. Kelley, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC 27695, USA. E-mail:


Small patterned-ground features (PGFs) in the Arctic have unique soil properties that vary with latitude and may greatly affect tundra biogeochemistry. Because nitrogen availability can strongly limit arctic vegetation growth, we examined how soil nitrogen transformations differ between PGFs and the surrounding inter-PGF tundra along an arctic latitudinal gradient. We collected soils at eight sites from the Alaskan Low Arctic to the Canadian High Arctic. The soils were incubated for 21 days at 9 °C and 15 °C and analysed for changes in total inorganic nitrogen, nitrate and extractable organic nitrogen (EON). We found greater nitrogen immobilisation in the surrounding inter-PGF soils than in the PGF soils. Along the latitudinal gradient, differences in net nitrogen mineralisation and EON cycling between PGF and inter-PGF soils were strongly influenced by the presence of a pH boundary within the Low Arctic and the transition between the High and Low Arctic, with greater immobilisation in the nonacidic and Low Arctic sites, respectively. Incubation temperature affected EON flux but did not affect net nitrogen mineralisation or nitrification. These results show that spatial heterogeneity at several scales can influence soil nitrogen dynamics, and is therefore an important influence on arctic ecosystem function. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.