This study was part of the International Tundra Experiment (ITEX) and examined the effects of increased winter snow depth and decreased growing season length on the phenology of four arctic plant species (Betula nana, Salix pulchra, Eriophorum vaginatum, and Vaccinium vitis-idaea) and seasonal nitrogen availability in arctic snowbed communities. Increased snow depth had a large effect on the temporal pattern of first date snow-free in spring, bud break, and flowering, but did not affect the rate of plant development. By contrast, snow depth had a large qualitative effect on N mineralization in deep snow zones, causing a shift in the timing and amount of N mineralized compared to ambient snow zones. Nitrogen mineralization in deep snow zones occurred mainly overwinter, whereas N mineralization in ambient snow zones occurred mainly in spring. Concentrations of soil dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) were approximately 5 times greater than concentrations of inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and did not vary significantly over the season. Projected increases in the depth and duration of snow cover in arctic plant communities will likely have minor effects on the rate of plant phenological development, but potentially large effects on patterns of N cycling.
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Vol. 40 • No. 1