Root-associated fungi not tree density influences stand nitrogen dynamics at the larch forest–tundra ecotone

Rebecca E. Hewitt, Heather D. Alexander, Samantha N. Miller, Michelle C. Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Greater tree density and forest productivity at the tundra–taiga ecotone (TTE) are expected with climate warming, with potential feedbacks to the climate system. Yet, competition for nitrogen (N) may impact TTE dynamics. Greater tree density will likely increase N demand, while reducing N supply through soil shading and slower decomposition rates. We explored whether characteristics of roots and root-associated fungi important to N acquisition responded to changes in density at the TTE and were related to above-ground stand productivity and N cycling. We measured rooting depth, uptake of N forms among soil layers and ectomycorrhizal (EcM) colonization and composition along a natural tree density gradient of monodominant larch Larix cajanderi in northeastern Siberia. We tested relationships between larch root and fungal characteristics, above-ground productivity and stand-level N cycling parameters. Overall, there was preferential uptake of ammonium compared to glycine or nitrate. Nitrogen uptake was greatest in shallow soils of the organic horizon and related to root chemistry, root-associated fungi and above-ground N cycling parameters, but the direction of these relationships depended on N form. Uptake of different N forms, rooting depth and EcM colonization and composition were not related to tree density, but fungal composition was correlated with root N chemistry and above-ground N cycling parameters. In addition to EcM, the abundance of dark septate endophytes and other ascomycetous taxa was positively related to N uptake and above-ground N cycling parameters. Synthesis. There was little impact of tree density on root and fungal parameters related to N acquisition suggesting intraspecific larch competition for N was not amplified with increased density. There was, however, a strong impact of root-associated fungi on N uptake and stand N dynamics regardless of tree density. Together, this suggests an important role of root-associated fungi on broadscale patterns of N cycling in TTE larch forests independent of changes in tree density expected with climate warming.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1419-1431
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Arctic
  • Larix cajanderi
  • N isotope
  • Siberia
  • ammonium
  • fungal internal transcribed spacer
  • glycine
  • nitrate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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