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N2 fixation and cycling in Alnus glutinosa, Betula pendula and Fagus sylvatica woodland exposed to free air CO2 enrichment

By Jonathan Millett, Douglas Godbold, Andrew R. Smith and Helen Grant


We measured the effect of elevated atmospheric CO2 on atmospheric nitrogen (N2) fixation in the tree species Alnus glutinosa growing in monoculture or in mixture with the non-N2-fixing tree species Betula pendula and Fagus sylvatica. We addressed the hypotheses that (1) N2 fixation in A. glutinosa will increase in response to increased atmospheric CO2 concentrations, when growing in monoculture, (2) the impact of elevated CO2 on N2 fixation in A. glutinosa is the same in mixture and in monoculture and (3) the impacts of elevated CO2 on N cycling will be evident by a decrease in leaf δ15N and by the soil-leaf enrichment factor (EF), and that these impacts will not differ between mixed and single species stands. Trees were grown in a forest plantation on former agricultural fields for four growing seasons, after which the trees were on average 3.8 m tall and canopy closure had occurred. Atmospheric CO2 concentrations were maintained at either ambient or elevated (by 200 ppm) concentrations using a free-air CO2 enrichment (FACE) system. Leaf δ15N was measured and used to estimate the amount (Ndfa) and proportion (%Ndfa) of N derived from atmospheric fixation. On average, 62% of the N in A. glutinosa leaves was from fixation. The %Ndfa and Ndfa for A. glutinosa trees in monoculture did not increase under elevated CO2, despite higher growth rates. However, N2 fixation did increase for trees growing in mixture, despite the absence of significant growth stimulation. There was evidence that fixed N2 was transferred from A. glutinosa to F. sylvatica and B. pendula, but no evidence that this affected their CO2 response. The results of this study show that N2 fixation in A. glutinosa may be higher in a future elevated CO2 world, but that this effect will only occur where the trees are growing in mixed species stands. \u

Topics: Ecology and Environment, Chemistry
Year: 2012
DOI identifier: 10.1007/s00442-011-2197-4
OAI identifier:

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