Bogs and fens cover 6 and 21%, respectively, of the 140,329 km2 Oil Sands Administrative Area in northern Alberta. Regional background atmospheric N deposition is low (b2 kg N ha−1 yr−1 ), but oil sands development has led to increasing N deposition (as high as 17 kg N ha−1 yr−1 ). To examine responses to N deposition, over five years, we experimentally applied N (as NH4NO3) to a poor fen near Mariana Lake, Alberta, unaffected by oil sands activities, at rates of 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 kg N ha−1 yr−1 , plus controls (no water or N addition). At Mariana Lake Poor Fen (MLPF), increasing N addition: 1) progressively inhibited N2-fixation; 2) had no effect on net primary production (NPP) of Sphagnum fuscum or S. angustifolium, while stimulating S. magellanicum NPP; 3) led to decreased abundance of S. fuscum and increased abundance of S. angustifolium, S. magellanicum, Andromeda polifolia, Vaccinium oxycoccos, and of vascular plants in general; 4) led to an increase in stem N concentrations in S. angustifolium and S. magellanicum, and an increase in leaf N concentrations in Chamaedaphne calyculata, Andromeda polifolia, and Vaccinium oxycoccos; 5) stimulated root biomass and production;6) stimulated decomposition of cellulose, but not of Sphagnum or vascular plant litter; and 7) had no or minimal effects on net N mineralization in surface peat, NH4 +-N, NO3 −-N or DON concentrations in surface porewater, or peat microbial composition. Increasing N addition led to a switch from new N inputs being taken up primarily by Sphagnum to being taken up primarily by shrubs. MLPF responses to increasing N addition did not exhibit threshold triggers, but rather began as soon as N additions increased. Considering all responses to N addition, we recommend a critical load for poor fens in Alberta of 3 kg N ha−1 yr−1 .
Science of the Total Environment
Wieder, R. K., Vitt, D. H., Vile, M. A., Graham, J. A., Hartsock, J. A., Popma, J. M., Fillingim, H., House, M., Quinn, J. C., Scott, K. D., Petix, M., & McMillen, K. J. (2020). Experimental nitrogen addition alters structure and function of a boreal poor fen: Implications for critical loads. Science of the Total Environment, 733(138619), 1-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.138619