The upland boreal forest at the Experimental Lakes Area (northwestern Ontario, Canada) is characterized by treed soil islands interspersed within lichen and moss-covered bedrock outcrops. N mineralization was 2.5-fold and net nitrification was 13-fold higher on an areal basis over bedrock surfaces because of high mineralization rates under lichen and moss patches. The higher average soil temperature in lichen and moss patches could not account for the difference in mineralization rates. Lichens did not provide a significant additional source of N because they did not fix atmospheric N. A refractory conifer litter with a high C:N probably favours the immobilization of N in forest islands. Buried bag and in situ core incubations yielded similar net N mineralization rates but core incubations underestimated net nitrification rates. Both methods did not adequately measure dissolved organic N (DON) production rates because soil disturbance caused high initial DON concentrations. The higher export of mineral N from bedrock surfaces is probably a combination of the lower retention of N in precipitation and leaching of mineralized N from lichen and moss patches.