Contrasting effects of long term versus short-term nitrogen addition on photosynthesis and respiration in the Arctic

Martine Janet van de Weg, Gaius R. Shaver, Vertity G. Salmon

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We examined the effects of short (<1–4 years) and long-term (22 years) nitrogen (N) and/or phosphorus (P) addition on the foliar CO2 exchange parameters of the Arctic species Betula nana and Eriophorum vaginatum in northern Alaska. Measured variables included: the carboxylation efficiency of Rubisco (Vcmax), electron transport capacity (Jmax), dark respiration (Rd), chlorophyll a and b content (Chl), and total foliar N (N). For both B. nanaand E. vaginatum, foliar N increased by 20–50 % as a consequence of 1–22 years of fertilisation, respectively, and for B. nana foliar N increase was consistent throughout the whole canopy. However, despite this large increase in foliar N, no significant changes in Vcmaxand Jmax were observed. In contrast, Rd was significantly higher (>25 %) in both species after 22 years of N addition, but not in the shorter-term treatments. Surprisingly, Chl only increased in both species the first year of fertilisation (i.e. the first season of nutrients applied), but not in the longer-term treatments. These results imply that: (1) under current (low) N availability, these Arctic species either already optimize their photosynthetic capacity per leaf area, or are limited by other nutrients; (2) observed increases in Arctic NEE and GPP with increased nutrient availability are caused by structural changes like increased leaf area index, rather than increased foliar photosynthetic capacity and (3) short-term effects (1–4 years) of nutrient addition cannot always be extrapolated to a larger time scale, which emphasizes the importance of long-term ecological experiments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1273-1286
Number of pages14
JournalPlant Ecology
Issue number10
Early online date17 Aug 2013
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Nitrogen use efficiency
  • Fertilisation
  • LTER
  • Alaska
  • Chlorophyll
  • Leaf mass per area
  • Canopy


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