The role of mosses in ecosystem succession and function in Alaska's boreal forest

Merritt R. Turetsky, Michelle C. Mack, Teresa N. Hollingsworth, Jennifer W. Harden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

131 Scopus citations


Shifts in moss communities may affect the resilience of boreal ecosystems to a changing climate because of the role of moss species in regulating soil climate and biogeochemical cycling. Here, we use long-term data analysis and literature synthesis to examine the role of moss in ecosystem succession, productivity, and decomposition. In Alaskan forests, moss abundance showed a unimodal distribution with time since fire, peaking 30-70 years post-fire. We found no evidence of mosses compensating for low vascular productivity in low-fertility sites at large scales, although a trade-off between moss and vascular productivity was evident in intermediate-productivity sites. Mosses contributed 48% and 20% of wetland and upland productivity, respectively, but produced tissue that decomposed more slowly than both nonwoody and woody vascular tissues. Increasing fire frequency in Alaska is likely to favor feather moss proliferation and decrease Sphagnum abundance, which will reduce soil moisture retention and decrease peat accumulation, likely leading to deeper burning during wildfire and accelerated permafrost thaw. The roles of moss traits in regulating key aspects of boreal performance (ecosystem N supply, C sequestration, permafrost stability, and fire severity) represent critical areas for understanding the resilience of Alaska's boreal forest region under changing climate and disturbance regimes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1237-1264
Number of pages28
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology


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