Assessment of N2 fixation and n cycling by Dryas along a chronosequence within the forelands of the athabasca glacier, Canada

Steven J. Kohls, Chris van Kessel, Dwight D. Baker, David F. Grigal, Donald B. Lawrence

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39 Scopus citations


The role of both actinorhizal and leguminous N2-flxing plants during primary succession within glacial forelands has received much attention, but there are few estimates of the contribution of fixed N to neo-glacial substrates. The main objectives of our work were (i) to assess the N2-fixing ability of three Dryas taxa across a chronosequence of ca 135 yr of post neo-glacial recession, and (ii) to establish whether Dryas serves as a source of N for non-N2-fixing species. The mineral N pool was highly limited across the sere and increased from 0.3 to 1.3 μg g-1 of soil over the chronosequence. The vascular non-N2-fixing species had negative mean δ15N values over the sere, ranging from -6.4 ± 0.4 to -3.3 ± 0.4. Dryas drummondii, present over the entire chronosequence, showed δ15N values ranging from -6.0 ± 0.5 to 0.32 ± 0.4, and appeared not to fix N2 until the mid to late stages of the sere. Mean estimated values of percent N derived from the atmosphere for D. drummondii ranged from 81 to 89%. The observed δ15N mean values for D. octopetala and D. integrifolia were -3.5 ± 0.5 and -4.9 ± 0.3, respectively. Those values were close to the δ 15N values of the non-N2-fixing species, therefore, at this site, these species did not appear to fix N2. Four non-N2-fixing woody vascular taxa that grew adjacent to N2-fixing plants had significantly greater foliar N contents and higher (less negative) δ15N values than non-N2-fixing woody vascular taxa grown at a distance from the N2-fixing Dryas. The δ15N values from non-N2-fixing plants that grew adjacent to N2-fixing D. drummondii appear to contradict the widely held hypothesis that pioneer N2-fixing species facilitate the establishment of later successional species during primary succession. The absence of N2-fixing activity by D. drummondii during the early stages of the sere, the higher concentration of N, and the less negative δ15N values for foliar N content in plants adjacent to this taxon, suggest an alternative mechanism for the spatial and temporal vegetation change during primary succession. These observations confirm and refine a hypothesis suggested earlier that N2-fixing plants stimulate, through the process of N transfer, adjacent non-N2-fixing plants that are already established.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)623-632
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1994

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