Elevated Nitrogen Deposition Enhances the Net CO2 Sink Strength in Alberta Bogs along a Post-fire Chronosequence

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
R. Kelman Wieder1,2, Melanie A Vile1, Cara Melissa Albright1 and Kimberli D Scott1, (1)Villanova University, Villanova, PA, United States, (2)Athabasca University, Athabasca, AB, Canada
About 30% of the landscape of northern Alberta, Canada is occupied by peatlands, which persist at the low end range of both mean annual precipitation (<500 mm/yr) and mean annual atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition (< 1 kg/ha/yr) across which peatlands are found globally. Ombrotrophic bogs in this region function as a net sink for atmospheric CO2 of over 75 g/m2/yr, taking into consideration changes in CO2 sink strength as a function of time since fire. In addition to fire, a new disturbance is emerging in the Athabasca Oil Sands Region (AOSR) of northern Alberta, where development of the oil sands resource has increased atmospheric N deposition to as much as 2.5 kg/ha/yr. To examine the effects of elevated N deposition on bog C cycling, we experimentally applied N (as NH4NO3 solutions) to replicated plots at levels equivalent to 0 (water added with no N), 10, and 20 kg/ha/yr, and controls (no waher, no N added) at five bog sites, aged at 2, 12, 32, 73, and 113 years since fire in 2013 (6 plots per N treatment per site). Understory net ecosystem exchange of CO2 (NEE) was measured repeatedly throughout the 2013 and 2014 growing season (and in 2011 and 2012 at the most recently burned site) using the closed chamber approach. Using a rectangular hyperbola equation to characterize NEE as a function of photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) and near-surface air temperature (T), monthly and annual NEE was estimated based on hourly measurements of PAR and T at each site. Across all sites, a general pattern emerged that N additions enhanced the net CO2 sink strength of the bogs, with no effect on ecosystem respiration. Net primary production of Sphagnum fuscum, the dominant peat-forming moss, was not affected by N addition, suggesting that the overall response of NEE to N addition is the result of enhanced growth of ericaceous shrubs. These findings suggest that while elevated N deposition in the AOSR may enhance the strength of the overall CO2 sink of bogs in the short term, in the longer term, increased shrub growth has the potential to shade Sphagnum mosses, compromising the future bog CO2sink strength across the region.