Epiphytic bryophytes as bio-indicators of atmospheric nitrogen deposition in a subtropical montane cloud forest: Response patterns, mechanism, and critical load
Increasing trends of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition due to pollution and land-use changes are dramatically altering global biogeochemical cycles. Bryophytes, which are extremely vulnerable to N deposition, often play essential roles in these cycles by contributing to large nutrient pools in boreal and montane forest ecosystems. To interpret the sensitivity of epiphytic bryophytes for N deposition and to determine their critical load (CL) in a subtropical montane cloud forest, community-level, physiological and chemical responses of epiphytic bryophytes were tested in a 2-year field experiment of N additions. The results showed a significant decrease in the cover of the bryophyte communities at an N addition level of 7.4 kg ha−1 yr−1, which is consistent with declines in the biomass production, vitality, and net photosynthetic rate responses of two dominant bryophyte species. Given the background N deposition rate of 10.5 kg ha−1yr−1 for the study site, a CL of N deposition is therefore estimated as ca. 18 kg N ha−1 yr−1. A disordered cellular carbon (C) metabolism, including photosynthesis inhibition and ensuing chlorophyll degradation, due to the leakage of magnesium and potassium and corresponding downstream effects, along with direct toxic effects of excessive N additions is suggested as the main mechanism driving the decline of epiphytic bryophytes. Our results confirmed the process of C metabolism and the chemical stability of epiphytic bryophytes are strongly influenced by N addition levels; when coupled to the strong correlations found with the loss of bryophytes, this study provides important and timely evidence on the response mechanisms of bryophytes in an increasingly N-polluted world. In addition, this study underlines a general decline in community heterogeneity and biomass production of epiphytic bryophytes induced by increasing N deposition.
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