The interactive effects of temperature and light on biological nitrogen fixation in boreal forests


Author for correspondence:
Michael J. Gundale
Tel: +46 90 786 84 27


  • Plant productivity is predicted to increase in northern latitudes as a result of climate warming; however, this may depend on whether biological nitrogen (N)-fixation also increases. We evaluated how the variation in temperature and light affects N-fixation by two boreal feather mosses, Pleurozium schreberi and Hylocomium splendens, which are the primary source of N-fixation in most boreal environments.
  • We measured N-fixation rates 2 and 4 wk after exposure to a factorial combination of environments of normal, intermediate and high temperature (16.3, 22.0 and 30.3°C) and light (148.0, 295.7 and 517.3 μmol m−2 s−1).
  • Our results showed that P. schreberi achieved higher N-fixation rates relative to H. splendens in response to warming treatments, but that the highest warming treatment eventually caused N-fixation to decline for both species. Light strongly interacted with warming treatments, having positive effects at low or intermediate temperatures and damaging effects at high temperatures.
  • These results suggest that climate warming may increase N-fixation in boreal forests, but that increased shading by the forest canopy or the occurrence of extreme temperature events could limit increases. They also suggest that P. schreberi may become a larger source of N in boreal forests relative to H. splendens as climate warming progresses.