Bryophyte-cyanobacteria associations as regulators of the northern latitude carbon balance in response to global change



Ecosystems in the far north, including arctic and boreal biomes, are a globally significant pool of carbon (C). Global change is proposed to influence both C uptake and release in these ecosystems, thereby potentially affecting whether they act as C sources or sinks. Bryophytes (i.e., mosses) serve a variety of key functions in these systems, including their association with nitrogen (N2)-fixing cyanobacteria, as thermal insulators of the soil, and producers of recalcitrant litter, which have implications for both net primary productivity (NPP) and heterotrophic respiration. While ground-cover bryophytes typically make up a small proportion of the total biomass in northern systems, their combined physical structure and N2-fixing capabilities facilitate a disproportionally large impact on key processes that control ecosystem C and N cycles. As such, the response of bryophyte-cyanobacteria associations to global change may influence whether and how ecosystem C balances are influenced by global change. Here, we review what is known about their occurrence and N2-fixing activity, and how bryophyte systems will respond to several key global change factors. We explore the implications these responses may have in determining how global change influences C balances in high northern latitudes.