Significant role for nitrate in the Arctic landscape

26th March 2018

Because of the very low nitrate levels found in arctic tundra soil, scientists had assumed that plants in this biome do not use nitrate. But a new study challenges this notion. The study has important implications for predicting which arctic plant species will dominate as the climate warms, as well as how much carbon tundra ecosystems can store.

Ecologists have discovered that arctic tundra plants take up much more nitrate than previously thought. Some species, such as the pink flowering plant Polygonum bistorta, take up even more nitrate than plants in low latitude, high-nitrate environments.
Nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient, is most readily absorbed by plants in its ammonium and nitrate forms. Because of the very low nitrate levels found in arctic tundra soil, scientists had assumed that plants in this biome do not use nitrate. But a new study co-authored by four Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Ecosystems Center scientists challenges this notion. The study has important implications for predicting which arctic plant species will dominate as the climate warms, as well as how much carbon tundra ecosystems can store.

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