Articles | Volume 14, issue 9
Research article
17 May 2017
Research article |  | 17 May 2017

Long-term carbon and nitrogen dynamics at SPRUCE revealed through stable isotopes in peat profiles

Erik A. Hobbie, Janet Chen, Paul J. Hanson, Colleen M. Iversen, Karis J. McFarlane, Nathan R. Thorp, and Kirsten S. Hofmockel

Abstract. Peatlands encode information about past vegetation dynamics, climate, and microbial processes. Here, we used δ15N and δ13C patterns from 16 peat profiles to deduce how the biogeochemistry of the Marcell S1 forested bog in northern Minnesota responded to environmental and vegetation change over the past  ∼  10 000 years. In multiple regression analyses, δ15N and δ13C correlated strongly with depth, plot location, C ∕ N,  %N, and each other. Correlations with  %N,  %C, C ∕ N, and the other isotope accounted for 80 % of variance for δ15N and 38 % of variance for δ13C, reflecting N and C losses. In contrast, correlations with depth and topography (hummock or hollow) reflected peatland successional history and climate. Higher δ15N in plots closer to uplands may reflect upland-derived DON inputs and accompanying shifts in N dynamics in the lagg drainage area surrounding the bog. The Suess effect (declining δ13CO2 since the Industrial Revolution) lowered δ13C in recent surficial samples. High δ15N from −35 to −55 cm probably indicated the depth of ectomycorrhizal activity after tree colonization of the peatland over the last 400 years, as confirmed by the occasional presence of wood down to −35 cm depth. High δ13C at  ∼  4000 years BP (−65 to −105 cm) could reflect a transition at that time to slower rates of peat accumulation, when 13C discrimination during peat decomposition may increase in importance. Low δ13C and high δ15N at −213 and −225 cm ( ∼  8500 years BP) corresponded to a warm period during a sedge-dominated rich fen stage. The above processes appear to be the primary drivers of the observed isotopic patterns, whereas there was no clear evidence for methane dynamics influencing δ13C patterns.

Short summary
We measured carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios (13C : 12C and 15N : 14N) in peat cores in a northern Minnesota bog to understand how climate, vegetation type, and decomposition affected C and N budgets over the last 9000 years. 13C : 12C patterns were primarily influenced by shifts in temperature, peatland vegetation and atmospheric CO2, whereas tree colonization and upland N influxes affected 15N : 14N ratios. Isotopic markers provided new insights into long-term patterns of CO2 and nitrogen losses.
Final-revised paper