Background and aims
Di-nitrogen (N2)-fixing plants are absent in the pioneer stages of glacial forefields in the European Alps despite low amounts of nitrogen (N) in the soil. We aimed to evaluate whether symbiotic N2-fixation is needed to meet the N demand of plants during the early stages of soil formation, and how phosphorus (P) availability affects plant establishment.
We measured total and available N and P in soil and N and P in the vegetation along the 137 year chronosequence in front of the Damma glacier (Switzerland).
Available N as determined by in situ resin N decreased from the pioneer stage (<16 years since deglaciation) to the intermediate (5780 years), likely resulting from increased plant N uptake and reduced funnelling of N by rocks. N concentrations in the vegetation were positively correlated to in situ resin N, and the N:P-ratio of the vegetation was negatively correlated with P concentrations in the vegetation.
The N requirement of plants in the pioneer stage of soil development in the forefield is fulfilled by atmospheric N deposition being funnelled between rocks. N2-fixation is not needed as the vegetation is often limited by P, or co-limited by N and P.