Species compositional differences on different-aged glacial landscapes drive contrasting responses of tundra to nutrient addition
- 1In the northern foothills of the Brooks Range, Alaska, moist non-acidic tundra dominates more recently deglaciated upland landscapes, whereas moist acidic tundra dominates older upland landscapes. In previous studies, experimental fertilization of moist acidic tussock tundra greatly increased the abundance and productivity of the deciduous dwarf shrub Betula nana. However, this species is largely absent from moist non-acidic tundra.
- 2These two common upland tundra community types exhibited markedly different responses to fertilization with nitrogen and phosphorus. In moist acidic tundra, cover of deciduous shrubs (primarily B. nana) increased after only 2 years, and by 4 years vascular biomass and above-ground net primary productivity (ANPP) had increased significantly, almost entirely because of Betula. In moist non-acidic tundra, both biomass and ANPP were again significantly greater, but no single species dominated the response to fertilization. Instead, the effect was due to a combination of several small, sometimes statistically non-significant responses by forbs, graminoids and prostrate deciduous shrubs.
- 3The different growth form and species’ responses suggest that fertilization will cause carbon cycling through plant biomass to diverge in these two tundra ecosystems. Already, production of new stems by apical growth has increased relative to leaf production in acidic tundra, whereas the opposite has occurred in non-acidic tundra. Secondary stem growth has also increased as a component of primary production in acidic tundra, but is unchanged in non-acidic tundra. Thus, fertilization will probably increase carbon sequestration in woody biomass of B. nana in acidic tundra, while increasing carbon turnover (but not storage) of non-woody species in non-acidic tundra.
- 4These results indicate that nutrient enrichment can have very different consequences for plant communities that occur on different geological substrates, because of differences in composition, even though they share the same regional species pool. Although the specific edaphic factors that maintain compositional differences in this case are unknown, variation in soil pH and related variability in soil nutrient availability may well play a role.