Contrasting nitrogen and phosphorus dynamics across an elevational gradient for subarctic tundra heath and meadow vegetation

Aims This study explores soil nutrient cycling processes and microbial properties for two contrasting vegetation types along an elevational gradient in subarctic tundra to improve our understanding of how temperature influences nutrient availability in an ecosystem predicted to be sensitive to global warming. Methods We measured total amino acid (Amino-N), mineral nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) concentrations, in situ net N and P mineralization, net Amino-N consumption, and microbial biomass C, N and P in both heath and meadow soils across an elevational gradient near Abisko, Sweden. Results For the meadow, NH4 + concentrations and net N mineralization were highest at high elevations and microbial properties showed variable responses; these variables were largely unresponsive to elevation for the heath. Amino-N concentrations sometimes showed a tendency to increase with elevation and net Amino-N consumption was often unresponsive to elevation. Overall, PO4-P concentrations decreased with elevation and net P immobilization mostly occurred at lower elevations; these effects were strongest for the heath. Conclusions Our results reveal that elevation-associated changes in temperature can have contrasting effects on the cycling of N and P in subarctic soils, and that the strength and direction of these effects depend strongly on dominant vegetation type.