1 Nutrient dynamics and growth of the feathermoss Hylocomium splendens were studied in a subarctic birch woodland. My aims were to estimate the species’ nutrient use strategy (and its determinants: mean residence time (MRT) and annual nutrient productivity (aNP)) and to unravel possible traits related to nutrient conservation and their implications for ecosystem nitrogen flux. Three methods to estimate nutrient losses in bryophytes were evaluated: a conventional growth analysis technique, a retrospective analysis and a 15N-tracer approach.
2 Estimates for nitrogen retention varied between 3 and 10 years as a result of the different N pools considered by the three methods. Growth analysis results depended on the distinction between live and dead tissues, whereas retrospective analysis gave valuable information on N release from decaying segments but did not measure MRT within the living segments. Valid estimates of MRT were obtained by a 15N-tracer approach.
3 MRT and aNP of H. splendens were similar to values typically found in woody evergreen vascular plants. Efficient nutrient recycling and a relatively long segment life span were responsible for the long residence time of nitrogen. Feathermosses show efficient nutrient acquisition, nutrient recycling and acropetal transport; nutrient losses will therefore be small.
4 Dominant bryophytes may retard the nutrient turnover at the forest floor through their production of acidic nutrient-poor organic matter and their negative effect on soil temperature, and they may therefore function as autogenic ecosystem engineers.