Effect of herbivory on the fate of added 15N-urea in a grazed Arctic tundra
(English)Manuscript (preprint) (Other academic)
Mammalian herbivores can strongly influence nitrogen cycling and herbivore urine could be an important component of the nutrient cycle in grazed ecosystems. Despite its potential role for ecosystem productivity and soil processes, the distribution of N from urine in the different ecosystem compartments is poorly understood. This study investigates the fate of 15N enriched urea applied above the plant canopy in two tundra sites either heavily or lightly grazed by reindeer for the last 50 years. We explored the fate of the 15N in the different ecosystem N pools at 2 weeks and 1 years following tracer addition. We hypothesized that cryptogams would take up most N under light grazing, but graminoids most N under heavy grazing. The 15N-urea was rapidly incorporated in cryptogams and aboveground parts of vascular plants, while the soil microbial pool and plant roots sequestered only a marginal proportion of the labelled N applied. Hence, urine addition supports a higher primary production in tundra since most of the nutrients released from urine could be assimilated by the aboveground components with little N reaching the belowground compartments. Mosses and lichens still constituted the largest sink of the 15N-urea 1 year after tracer addition at both levels of grazing intensity demonstrating their large ability to capture and retain N from urine. Deciduous and evergreen shrubs were just as efficient as graminoids in taking up the 15N-urea. The total recovery of the labelled urea was lower in the heavily grazed sites, suggesting that reindeer reduce the N retention in the system. Rapid incorporation of the applied 15N-urea indicates that arctic plants can take advantage of a pulse of incoming N in the form of urea, which supports a higher primary production. However, whether urine also maintains a high production of forage plants depend on plant community composition, since most urea was recovered in non-forage plants for reindeer.
Above-belowground linkages, Arctic tundra, Cryptogams, Microbial N biomass, Nutrient cycling, Plant-herbivore interactions, nutrient uptake, Grazing intensity, urine, 15N labelling
Research subject biology
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-120177OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-120177DiVA: diva2:927064