Seasonal variation in nitrogen uptake and turnover in two high-elevation soils: Mineralization responses are site-dependent

Amy E. Miller, Joshua P. Schimel, James O. Sickman, Kevin Skeen, Thomas Meixner, John M. Melack

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


In arctic and alpine ecosystems, soil nitrogen (N) dynamics can differ markedly between winter and summer months, and nitrogen losses can be measurable during the spring and fall transitions. To explore the effect of seasonality on biogeochemical processes in a temperate alpine environment, we used a combination of field incubations (year-round) and 15N tracer additions (late fall, early spring, summer) to characterize soil N dynamics in a wet and dry meadow in the Sierra Nevada, California. The snowmelt to early summer season marked a period of high 15N uptake and turnover in the two soils, coincident with the increase in microbial N pools at the start of snowmelt (wet and dry meadow); an increase in net N mineralization and net nitrification as snowmelt progressed (wet meadow only); and measureable net production of 15N-NH4 + in mid-summer (wet and dry meadow). Whereas fluctuations in microbial biomass were generally synchronous between the wet and dry meadow soils, only wet meadow soils appeared to mineralize N in response to declines in the microbial N pool. Net N mineralization and net nitrification rates in the dry meadow soil were negligible on all but one sampling date, in spite of periodic decreases in biomass of up to 60%. Across both sites, high 15N recoveries in microbial biomass N, rapid 15N-NH4 + turnover, and low or negative net 15N-NH4 + fluxes suggested tight cycling of N, particularly in the late fall and early spring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)253-270
Number of pages18
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Alpine
  • Microbial N dynamics
  • Nitrification
  • Seasonal transitions
  • Snowmelt
  • Winter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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