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Responses of the mosses Sphagnum capillifolium and Polytrichum strictum to nitrogen deposition in a bog: growth, ground cover, and CO2 exchange

Juutinen, Sari, Moore, Tim R., Laine, Anna M., Bubier, Jill L., Tuittila, Eeva-Stiina, De Young, Allison, Chong, Mandy
Botany 2015 v.94 no.2 pp. 127-138
Polytrichum, Sphagnum, carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, mosses and liverworts, nitrogen, peatlands, photosynthesis
Previous studies have shown that atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition is detrimental to sphagna, which are a group of mosses that are important for carbon cycling in northern peatlands. Little is known about species interactions, such as relative responses of tall moss Polytrichum strictum Menzies ex Brid. and sphagna. We studied the effects of N deposition on growth, abundance, and CO₂ exchange of the moss species Sphagnum capillifolium (Ehrh.) Hedw. and Polytrichum strictum in an experiment at a temperate bog. Sphagnum growth and cover decreased significantly with high-dose N treatment (6.4 g N·m⁻²·year⁻¹) in years 4 and 5 of treatment, whereas the same parameters increased for Polytrichum compared with the control. Net CO₂ exchange, gross photosynthesis (Pg), and dark respiration (R) in the intact moss cores, which were measured in year 5 of treatment, were elevated in the cores that had been treated with the high-dose of N, compared with the control, and this was associated with increased abundance of Polytrichum. The moss cores where Polytrichum was removed, however, had increased mass-based R with the high-dose N treatment. Our results showed that S.capillifolium at Mer Bleue may be close to N saturation, as 5 years of high-dose N loading (6.4 g N·m⁻²·year⁻¹ + background) was harmful to this species, possibly as a result of increased respiratory cost. Polytrichum strictum had a competitive advantage, at least in the short-term, through allocating excess N to growth. This change in moss layer composition deserves further attention, as a shift to more easily decomposable litter, without corresponding increases in plant production, could reduce the carbon sequestration of the bog.