The relationship of C and N stable isotopes to high-latitude moss-associated N2 fixation

Julia E.M. Stuart, Hannah Holland-Moritz, Mélanie Jean, Samantha N. Miller, José Miguel Ponciano, Stuart F. McDaniel, Michelle C. Mack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Moss-associated N2 fixation by epiphytic microbes is a key biogeochemical process in nutrient-limited high-latitude ecosystems. Abiotic drivers, such as temperature and moisture, and the identity of host mosses are critical sources of variation in N2 fixation rates. An understanding of the potential interaction between these factors is essential for predicting N inputs as moss communities change with the climate. To further understand the drivers and results of N2 fixation rate variation, we obtained natural abundance values of C and N isotopes and an associated rate of N2 fixation with 15N2 gas incubations in 34 moss species collected in three regions across Alaska, USA. We hypothesized that δ15N values would increase toward 0‰ with higher N2 fixation to reflect the increasing contribution of fixed N2 in moss biomass. Second, we hypothesized that δ13C and N2 fixation would be positively related, as enriched δ13C signatures reflect abiotic conditions favorable to N2 fixation. We expected that the magnitude of these relationships would vary among types of host mosses, reflecting differences in anatomy and habitat. We found little support for our first hypothesis, with only a modest positive relationship between N2 fixation rates and δ15N in a structural equation model. We found a significant positive relationship between δ13C and N2 fixation only in Hypnales, where the probability of N2 fixation activity reached 95% when δ13C values exceeded − 30.4‰. We conclude that moisture and temperature interact strongly with host moss identity in determining the extent to which abiotic conditions impact associated N2 fixation rates.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)283-295
Number of pages13
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 2021


  • Alaska
  • Arctic
  • Boreal
  • Bryophytes
  • Nitrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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