Permafrost nitrogen status and its determinants on the Tibetan Plateau
Mao C, Kou D, Chen LY, Qin SQ, Zhang DY, Peng YF, Yang YH*
Global Change Biology
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It had been suggested that permafrost thaw could promote frozen nitrogen (N) release and modify microbial N transformation rates, which might alter soil N availability and then regulate ecosystem functions. However, the current understanding of this issue is confined to limited observations in the Arctic permafrost region, without any systematic measurements in other permafrost regions. Based on a large-scale field investigation along a 1,000 km transect and a laboratory incubation experiment with a 15N pool dilution approach, this study provides the comprehensive evaluation of the permafrost N status, including the available N content and related N transformation rates, across the Tibetan alpine permafrost region. In contrast to the prevailing view, our results showed that the Tibetan alpine permafrost had lower available N content and net N mineralization rate than the active layer. Moreover, the permafrost had lower gross rates of N mineralization, microbial immobilization and nitrification than the active layer. Our results also revealed that the dominant drivers of the gross N mineralization and microbial immobilization rates differed between the permafrost and the active layer, with these rates being determined by microbial properties in the permafrost while regulated by soil moisture in the active layer. In contrast, soil gross nitrification rate was consistently modulated by the soil NH4+ content in both the permafrost and the active layer. Overall, patterns and drivers of permafrost N pools and transformation rates observed in this study offer new insights into the potential N release upon permafrost thaw and provide important clues for Earth system models to better predict permafrost biogeochemical cycles under a warming climate.