Soil microbial and nutrient dynamics in a wet Arctic sedge meadow in late winter and early spring
Edwards, Kate A.
Kershaw, Peter G.
Jefferies, Robert L.
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Microbial activity is known to continue during the winter months in cold alpine and Arctic soils often resulting in high microbial biomass. Complex soil nutrient dynamics characterize the transition when soil temperatures approach and exceed 0 °C in spring. At the time of this transition in alphine soils microbial biomass declines dramatically together with soil pools of available nutrients. This pattern of change characterizes alpine soils at the winter–spring transition but whether a similar pattern occurs in Arctic soils, which are colder, is unclear. In this study amounts of microbial biomass and the availability of carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) for microbial and plant growth in wet peaty soils of an Arctic sedge meadow have been determined across the winter–spring boundary. The objective was to determine the likely causes of the decline in microbial biomass in relation to temperature change and nutrient availability. The pattern of soil temperature at depths of 5–15 cm can be divided into three phases: below 10 °C in late winter, from 7 to 0°C for 7 weeks during a period of freeze–thaw cycles and above 0 °C in early spring. Peak microbial biomass and nutrient availability occurred early in the freeze–thaw phase. Subsequently, a steady decrease in inorganic N occurred, so that when soil temperatures rose above 0 °C, pools of inorganic nutrients in soils were very low. In contrast, amounts of microbial C and soluble organic C and N remained high until the end of the period of freeze–thaw cycles, when a sudden collapse occurred in soluble organic C and N and in phosphatase activity, followed by a crash in microbial biomass just prior to soil temperatures rising consistently above 0 °C. Following this, there was no large pulse of available nutrients, implying that competition for nutrients from roots results in the collapse of the microbial pool.
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