Question: How do increases in soil nutrient and water availability alter the nutrient fluxes through the resorption and litter decomposition pathways and how do they affect litter nutrient pools in a low-productive alpine tundra ecosystem?
Location: An alpine lichen-rich tundra on Mt. Malaya Khatipara in the NW Caucasus, Russia (43°27′ N, 41°42′ E; altitude 2800ma.s.l.).
Methods: We conducted a 4-year fertilisation (N, P, N P, lime) and irrigation experiment, and analysed the responses of nutrient resorption from senescing leaves, leaf litter quality and decomposability of six pre-dominant vascular plant species, total plant community litter production and litter (nutrient) accumulation.
Results: Vascular plant litter [N] and [P] increased 1.5 and 10 fold in response to N and P additions, due to increased concentrations of the nutrients in fresh leaves and unchanged or reduced resorption efficiency. Litter decomposability was not affected by nutrient amendments. Fertilisation enhanced litter production (180%; N P treatment) and litter accumulation (80%; N P), owing to tremendously increased production and low decomposability of graminoids. Together with increased litter [N] and [P] this led to great increases in total litter nutrient pools.
Conclusions: Due to increased production of graminoids, nutrients added to the alpine tundra soil were mostly immobilised in recalcitrant, nutrient-rich litter. This suggests that changing species composition in low productive ecosystems may act as an internal buffer mechanism, which under increased soil nutrient availability prevents the community from rapidly acquiring features typical of a high productive ecosystem such as high decomposability and high nutrient availability.
Nomenclature: Vorob'eva & Onipchenko (2001).