Decadal-scale decoupling of soil phosphorus and molybdenum cycles by temperate nitrogen-fixing trees

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Symbiotic nitrogen- (N) fixing trees can influence multiple biogeochemical cycles by fixing atmospheric N, which drives net primary productivity and soil carbon (C) and N accumulation, as well as by mobilizing soil phosphorus (P) and other nutrients to support growth and metabolism. The soil micronutrient molybdenum (Mo) is essential to N-fixation, yet surprisingly little is known of whether N-fixing trees alter soil Mo cycling, and if changes to soil Mo are coupled to soil C, N, and P. We compared how symbiotic N-fixing red alder and non-N-fixing Douglas-fir trees modified surface soil C, N, P, and Mo across variation in climate and other site factors in the Pacific Northwest. We found that after two decades, N-fixing trees drove coupled increases in surface soil C, N, total P, and organic P. Consistent with contributions of N-fixing trees to soil organic matter, increased soil C and N were accompanied by lower δ13C in all sites, and lower δ15N in sites where non-fixer plots exhibited elevated soil δ15N. However, N-fixing trees did not affect surface soil Mo concentrations or fractions, suggesting that different factors control the cycling of P versus Mo over decadal timescales. Random forest analysis revealed that surface soil P was most strongly influenced by factors related to soil C accumulation, whereas surface soil Mo was related primarily to environmental factors, including potential differences in atmospheric Mo deposition across sites. Ratios of surface soil P:Mo were higher in extractable pools than in total soil digests, reinforcing the idea of stronger biotic cycling of P than Mo. Overall, our multi-site, multi-decadal field study found surprisingly small effects of N-fixing trees on soil Mo, despite rapid increases in soil organic C, N, and P. We hypothesize that, rather than direct effects of N-fixing vegetation, abiotic or indirect biotic factors such as soil sorption of atmospheric Mo inputs can link C–N–P–Mo cycles in terrestrial ecosystems on longer timescales.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Decadal-scale decoupling of soil phosphorus and molybdenum cycles by temperate nitrogen-fixing trees
Series title Biogeochemistry
DOI 10.1007/s10533-020-00680-9
Edition 355
Volume 149
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 371
Country Canada, United States,
State British Columbia, Washington
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