University of Oulu

Väisänen, M., Tuomi, M., Bailey, H. et al. Plant and soil nitrogen in oligotrophic boreal forest habitats with varying moss depths: does exclusion of large grazers matter?. Oecologia 196, 839–849 (2021).

Plant and soil nitrogen in oligotrophic boreal forest habitats with varying moss depths : does exclusion of large grazers matter?

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Author: Väisänen, Maria1,2; Tuomi, Maria3; Bailey, Hannah1;
Organizations: 1Ecology and Genetics Research Unit, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
2Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, Rovaniemi, Finland
3Department of Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway
4Department of Biological Science, University of Alaska Anchorage, Anchorage, AK, USA
5UArctic, Rovaniemi, Finland
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 1.1 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Springer Nature, 2021
Publish Date: 2021-06-16


The boreal forest consists of drier sunlit and moister-shaded habitats with varying moss abundance. Mosses control vascular plant–soil interactions, yet they all can also be altered by grazers. We determined how 2 decades of reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) exclusion affect feather moss (Pleurozium schreberi) depth, and the accompanying soil N dynamics (total and dissolvable inorganic N, δ¹⁵N), plant foliar N, and stable isotopes (δ¹⁵N, δ¹³C) in two contrasting habitats of an oligotrophic Scots pine forest. The study species were pine seedling (Pinus sylvestris L.), bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus L.), lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea L.), and feather moss. Moss carpet was deeper in shaded than sunlit habitats and increased with grazer exclusion. Humus N content increased in the shade as did humus δ¹⁵N, which also increased due to exclusion in the sunlit habitats. Exclusion increased inorganic N concentration in the mineral soil. These soil responses were correlated with moss depth. Foliar chemistry varied due to habitat depending on species identity. Pine seedlings showed higher foliar N content and lower foliar δ¹⁵N in the shaded than in the sunlit habitats, while bilberry had both higher foliar N and δ¹⁵N in the shade. Thus, foliar δ¹⁵N values of co-existing species diverged in the shade indicating enhanced N partitioning. We conclude that despite strong grazing-induced shifts in mosses and subtler shifts in soil N, the N dynamics of vascular vegetation remain unchanged. These indicate that plant–soil interactions are resistant to shifts in grazing intensity, a pattern that appears to be common across boreal oligotrophic forests.

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Series: Oecologia
ISSN: 0029-8549
ISSN-E: 1432-1939
ISSN-L: 0029-8549
Volume: 196
Issue: 3
Pages: 839 - 849
DOI: 10.1007/s00442-021-04957-0
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 1181 Ecology, evolutionary biology
Funding: This project was fully funded by UArctic Chairship (Jeffrey M Welker) and utilized long-term field experiment and climate data provided by the Oulanka research station. Jarmo Laitinen conducted vegetation community analysis. Anna Miettinen and Tarja Törmänen from the University of Oulu and Katja Sippola from the Oulanka research station assisted with field and laboratory work and Mikko Kiljunen from the University of Jyväskylä conducted the elemental and natural isotope analyses. Open access funding provided by University of Oulu including Oulu University Hospital.
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