Light drives nitrogen fixation in tropical montane cloud forests in Costa Rica

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Tropical montane cloud forests are high altitude ecosystems characterized by very high ambient humidity, which favors organisms that depend on the environment for their water status, such as bryophytes and their nitrogen-fixing symbionts. Bryophyte-associated N2 fixation is a major source of new N in several northern environments, but their contributions to the N cycle in other ecosystems is still poorly understood. In this work, we evaluated N2 fixation rates associated with epiphytic bryophytes growing along the stems of pumpwood trees (Cecropia sp.) as well as in surrounding litter and soil from a primary and a secondary cloud forests in the Talamanca Mountain Range, Costa Rica. Nitrogen fixation was significantly higher in substrates from the secondary forest compared to those from the primary forest. Overall, N2 fixation rates associated with epiphytic bryophytes were 57 times those of litter and 270 times what was measured in soil. Further, light intensity was the major factor influencing N2 fixation rates in all substrates. Increased access to light in disturbed cloud forests may therefore favor bryophyte-associated N2 fixation, potentially contributing to the recovery of these ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Article number173631
JournalThe Science of the Total Environment
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2024

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Copyright © 2024 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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