The hypotheses that carbon and nitrogen availability limit microbial activity, and that the key factors limiting microbes vary along the successional gradient were tested in a High Arctic glacier foreland. We examined the responses of the respiration rate and the phospholipid fatty acid content to the addition of carbon and/or nitrogen. Soil samples were collected from the early stage and late stage of primary succession in the foreland of a glacier near Ny-Ålesund, Svalbard. The addition of both carbon (glucose) and nitrogen (ammonium nitrate) engendered an increase in the microbial respiration rate in the early stage of succession. In contrast, the addition of either carbon or nitrogen did not increase the microbial respiration rate. In the late stage of succession the addition of carbon alone, as well as the addition of both carbon and nitrogen, increased the microbial respiration rate. However, neither the addition of carbon nor the addition of nitrogen affected the total phospholipid fatty acid content (an index of microbial biomass) for any soil within 15 days of incubation at 10°C. An increase in the respiration rate was therefore attributed to changes in the physiological activities of the microbial community, such as enzymatic activity. Our study suggests that microbial respiration was limited by the low availability of both carbon and nitrogen in the early stage of succession. Thereafter, nitrogen limitation is mitigated.
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