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Effect of soil temperature on nitrogen fixation in Alnus

Cite this dataset

Markham, John; Anderson, Paige (2021). Effect of soil temperature on nitrogen fixation in Alnus [Dataset]. Dryad.


Purpose: The short growing season and cold climate of the boreal forest can restrict soil nitrogen availability, limiting plant growth and ecosystem productivity. Vascular nitrogen-fixing plants should have an advantage in low nitrogen environments. Yet, their abundance in the boreal forest is low. How nitrogen fixation is affected when temperature differences occur between the soil and air, especially in the spring when soil temperatures remain cool, has not been documented in actinorhizal shrubs.

Methods: A lab study was performed on Alnus alnobetula subsp. crispa (Aiton) Raus. For 13 weeks, soil was kept at either 10˚C, 14˚C or 16˚C, independently of shoot temperature, at 20˚C.

Results: Soils at 14˚C and 10˚C inhibited whole-plant nitrogen fixation (by 53% and 68%) and photosynthesis (by 43% and 39%), respectively, compared to soils at 16˚C. Reductions in photosynthetic rate were mainly attributed to a reduction in the fixed nitrogen supply and subsequent reduction in chlorophyll formation. Photosynthesis was not reduced immediately, suggesting some utilization of a nitrogen source not supplied from current fixation. Reduced amounts of fixed nitrogen and photosynthates resulted in diminished biomass production and relative growth rate.

Conclusion: The assumed advantages of being a nitrogen-fixing plant in a low nitrogen environment may be constrained by soil temperature to a larger extent than previously considered. This may restrict the abundance of nitrogen-fixing species in the boreal forest. 


Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council