Journal Article

The relative contribution of symbiotic N₂ fixation and other nitrogen sources to grassland ecosystems along an altitudinal gradient in the Alps

Katja A. Jacot, Andreas Lüscher, Josef Nösberger and Ueli A. Hartwig
Plant and Soil
Vol. 225, No. 1/2 (2000), pp. 201-211
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/42950859
Page Count: 11
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The relative contribution of symbiotic N₂ fixation and other nitrogen sources to grassland ecosystems along an altitudinal gradient in the Alps
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Abstract

The significance of symbiotic N₂ fixation in legumes (Trifolium alpinum L., T. nivale Sieber, T. pratense L., T. badium Schreber, T. thalii Vili., T. repens L., Lotus alpinus [DC] Schleicher, L. corniculatus L., Vicia sativa L.) and other N sources for the N budget of grassland ecosystems was studied along an altitudinal gradient in the Swiss Alps. The total annual symbiotic N₂ fixation was compared with other sources of N for plant growth of the total plant community (mineralisation and wet deposition). The contribution of symbiotically fixed N to total aboveground N yield of the swards decreased from at least 16% to 9% with increasing altitude where legumes were present. This decrease was due to a decrease in the yield proportion of legumes from 15% at 900 and 1380 m a.s.l. to 5% at 2100 and 2300 m a.s.l. (no legumes were found above 2750 m a.s.l.) and not to a decline in the activity of symbiotic N₂ fixation. With increasing altitude legumes are more patchily distributed. The high symbiotic N₂ fixation of individual plants up to their altitudinal limit is not primarily the result of low mineral N availability since an addition of NH₄⁺ or NO₃⁻ fertiliser at 2300 m a.s.l. led either to no decrease or only to a minor decrease in symbiotic N₂ fixation. At 1380 m a.s.l., N mineralisation (13.45 g N m⁻² yr⁻¹) appeared to be the main source of N for growth of the sward; N from symbiosis (at least 1.0 g to 2.6 g N m⁻² yr⁻¹) and wet deposition (0.4 g to 0.6 g m⁻² yr⁻²) was not a significant N source for plant growth at this altitude. At 2100 m a.s.l., the combined amounts of Í from symbiotic N2 fixation (at least 0.1 g N m⁻² yr⁻¹) and wet deposition (0.3 g N m⁻² yr⁻¹) appeared to be similarly important for plant growth as soil N mineralisation (0.47 g N m⁻² yr⁻¹). At high altitudes, wet N deposition and symbiotic N₂ fixation together represent a significant source of N for the grassland ecosystem while at low altitudes these N inputs appear to be much less important.

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