Vascular plant success in a warming Antarctic may be due to efficient nitrogen acquisition

P W Hill, J Farrar, P Roberts, M Farrell , H Grant, K K Newsham, David William Hopkins, R D Bardgett, D L Jones

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    110 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    For the past 50 years there has been rapid warming in
    the maritime Antarctic, with concurrent, and probably
    temperature-mediated, proliferation of the two native plants,
    Antarctic pearlwort (Colobanthus quitensis) and especially
    Antarctic hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica). In many
    terrestrial ecosystems at high latitudes, nitrogen (N) supply
    regulates primary productivity. Although the predominant
    view is that only inorganic and amino acid N are important
    sources of N for angiosperms, most N enters soil as protein.
    Maritime Antarctic soils have large stocks of proteinaceous N,
    which is released slowly as decomposition is limited by low
    temperatures. Consequently, an ability to acquire N at an early
    stage of availability is key to the success of photosynthetic
    organisms. Here we show that D. antarctica can acquire N
    through its roots as short peptides, produced at an early stage
    of protein decomposition, acquiring N over three times faster
    than as amino acid, nitrate or ammonium, and more than 160
    times faster than the mosses with which it competes. Efficient
    acquisition of the N released in faster decomposition of soil
    organic matter as temperatures rise may give D. antarctica
    an advantage over competing mosses that has facilitated its
    recent proliferation in the maritime Antarctic.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)50-53
    Number of pages4
    JournalNature Climate Change
    Volume1
    Issue number1
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011

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