Increasing tree density accelerates stand-level nitrogen cycling at the taiga–tundra ecotone in northeastern Siberia

Rebecca E. Hewitt, Heather D. Alexander, Brian Izbicki, Michael M. Loranty, Susan M. Natali, Xanthe J. Walker, Michelle C. Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

As climate warms, tree density at the taiga–tundra ecotone (TTE) is expected to increase, which may intensify competition for belowground resources in this nitrogen (N)-limited environment. To determine the impacts of increased tree density on N cycling and productivity, we examined edaphic properties indicative of soil N availability along with aboveground and belowground tree-level traits and stand characteristics related to carbon (C) and N cycling across a tree density gradient of monodominant larch (Larix cajanderi) at the TTE in far northeastern Siberia. We found no consistent evidence from soil, tree, or stand-level N cycling characteristics of lower N availability or greater intraspecific competition for N with increased density. Active layer thickness declined, but resin-sorbed N and soil organic layer thickness did not covary with increased tree density. There was, however, greater allocation belowground to stand-level coarse and fine roots with increased tree density, an allocation pattern suggestive of limited soil resources. Foliar traits related to C (%C, δ13C, and resorption) were responsive to density indicating the importance of non-nutrient resources, like light, to foliar stoichiometry. As tree density increased and individual trees had lower productivity, tree-level N and biomass pools aboveground and belowground declined tracking decreases in N uptake, N resorption, N use efficiency, and allocation to slow cycling tissues like wood. At the stand level, our findings show high N turnover with increased N acquisition, allocation to short-lived tissues with relatively high N content and reduced N residence time, and greater stand productivity as tree density increased. Yet, these positive relationships were curtailed at the highest tree densities. Our observations of shifts in biomass, C and N allocation, and loss aboveground, along with greater root density with increased tree density, could have strong impacts on C and N cycling and should be represented in models of TTE dynamics and feedbacks to climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere4175
JournalEcosphere
Volume13
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Keywords

  • Arctic
  • boreal
  • carbon cycling
  • Larix cajanderi
  • natural abundance isotopes
  • roots

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology

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