Estimated nutrient mineralization in northern nutrient-poor ecosystems, measured as differences in soil inorganic nutrients before and after a period of soil incubation in the absence of plants and litter, usually shows a discrepancy of much lower rates than plant nutrient uptake rates. In plots that had been pre-treated by 12 year of warming and fertilizer addition, we incubated soils together with litter and plants added and examined whether the absence of plants and litter in ‘traditional' incubations could explain the discrepancy. The pre-treatment had no effect on nitrogen (N) mineralization but increased phosphorus (P) mineralization, while litter addition decreased N and increased P mineralization but without any effect on plant and microbial N and P sequestration. Incubations of soils with plants increased N mobilization to the soil inorganic plus plant pools several-fold as compared to the net mineralization in soils without plants. Hence, the presence of plants stimulated mobilization of the growth-limiting N. The growth-sufficient P was not affected by the presence of plants, however. Furthermore, increased plant and microbial N uptake correlated positively, which speaks against competition for plant available N from soil microbes in N-constrained ecosystems, at least during the time-span of 10 weeks the experiment lasted, and instead suggests facilitation.
Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 2006, Vol 38, Issue 3, p. 526-532