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Ecological consequences of the expansion of N₂‑fixing plants in cold biomes Public Deposited

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  • Research in warm-climate biomes has shown that invasion by symbiotic dinitrogen (N₂)-fixing plants can transform ecosystems in ways analogous to the transformations observed as a consequence of anthropogenic, atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition: declines in biodiversity, soil acidification, and alterations to carbon and nutrient cycling, including increased N losses through nitrate leaching and emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N₂O). Here, we used literature review and case study approaches to assess the evidence for similar transformations in cold-climate ecosystems of the boreal, subarctic and upper montane-temperate life zones. Our assessment focuses on the plant genera Lupinus and Alnus, which have become invasive largely as a consequence of deliberate introductions and/or reduced land management. These cold biomes are commonly located in remote areas with low anthropogenic N inputs, and the environmental impacts of N₂-fixer invasion appear to be as severe as those from anthropogenic N deposition in highly N polluted areas. Hence, inputs of N from N₂ fixation can affect ecosystems as dramatically or even more strongly than N inputs from atmospheric deposition, and biomes in cold climates represent no exception with regard to the risk of being invaded by N₂-fixing species. In particular, the cold biomes studied here show both a strong potential to be transformed by N₂-fixing plants and a rapid subsequent saturation in the ecosystem’s capacity to retain N. Therefore, analogous to increases in N deposition, N₂-fixing plant invasions must be deemed significant threats to biodiversity and to environmental quality.
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  • Hiltbrunner, E., Aerts, R., Bühlmann, T., Huss-Danell, K., Magnusson, B., Myrold, D. D., ... & Körner, C. (2014). Ecological consequences of the expansion of N₂-fixing plants in cold biomes. Oecologia, 176(1), 11-24. doi:10.1007/s00442-014-2991-x
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  • 176
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  • 1
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  • We greatly acknowledgethe generous funding for the workshop from the European ScienceFoundation, and funding received by the Swiss National ScienceFoundation (project VA LUrsern, CR30I3-124809/1) and MercatorFoundation Switzerland for advancing this topic.
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