• atmospheric nitrogen deposition;
  • climate warming;
  • decomposition;
  • litter;
  • nutrient;
  • production;
  • respiration;
  • water


Increasing rates of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition may reduce growth and accelerate decomposition of Sphagnum mosses in bogs. Sphagnum growth and rates of Sphagnum litter decomposition may also vary because of climate change as both processes are controlled by climatic factors. The initial purpose of this study was to assess if growth and litter decomposition of hummock and lawn Sphagnum species varied with increasing N input in a factorial mid-term (2002–2005) experiment of N and phosphorus (P) addition, in a bog on the southern Alps of Italy. However, as the experimental period was characterized by an exceptional heat wave in summer 2003, we also explored the interacting effects of fertilization and strongly varying climate on growth and decomposition rates of Sphagnum. The heat wave implied strong dehydration of the upper Sphagnum layer even if precipitation in summer 2003 did not differ appreciably from the overall mean. Sphagnum production was somewhat depressed by high levels (3 g m−2 yr−1) of N addition without concomitant addition of P presumably because of nutrient imbalance in the tissues, but production rates were much lower than the overall means in 2003, when no effect of nutrient addition could be observed. Adding N at high level also increased the potential decay of Sphagnum litter. Higher CO2 emission from N-fertilized litter was due to amelioration of litter chemistry showing lower C/N quotients in the N-fertilized treatments. Rates of CO2 emission from incubated litter also were more strongly affected by water content than by nutrient status, with practically no CO2 emission detected when litter was dry. We conclude that higher rates of atmospheric N availability input may depress Sphagnum growth because of P, and presumably potassium, (co-)limitation. Higher N availability is also expected to promote potential decay of Sphagnum litter by ameliorating litter chemistry. However, both effects are less pronounced if the growing Sphagnum apex and the underlying senescing tissues dry out.