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In situ gross nitrogen transformations differ between temperate deciduous and coniferous forest soils

Journal article
Authors J. Staelens
Tobias Rütting
D. Huygens
A. De Schrijver
C. Muller
K. Verheyen
P. Boeckx
Published in Biogeochemistry
Volume 108
Issue 1-3
Pages 259-277
ISSN 0168-2563
Publication year 2012
Published at Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences
Pages 259-277
Language en
Keywords forest type, mineralization, nitrification, n-15, nutrient cycling, tracing model, microbial community structure, chilean nothofagus forest, humid tropical forest, grassland soil, inorganic nitrogen, n transformations, pinus-sylvestris, organic-matter, betula-pendula, cycling rates
Subject categories Biological Sciences


Despite long-term enhanced nitrogen (N) inputs, forests can retain considerable amounts of N. While rates of N inputs via throughfall and N leaching are increased in coniferous stands relative to deciduous stands at comparable sites, N leaching below coniferous stands is disproportionally enhanced relative to the N input. A better understanding of factors affecting N retention is needed to assess the impact of changing N deposition on N cycling and N loss of forests. Therefore, gross N transformation pathways were quantified in undisturbed well-drained sandy soils of adjacent equal-aged deciduous (pedunculate oak (Quercus robur L.)) and coniferous (Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.)) planted forest stands located in a region with high N deposition (north Belgium). In situ inorganic N-15 labelling of the mineral topsoil (0-10 cm) combined with numerical data analysis demonstrated that (i) all gross N transformations differed significantly (p < 0.05) between the two forest soils, (ii) gross N mineralization in the pine soil was less than half the rate in the oak soil, (iii) meaningful N immobilization was only observed for ammonium, (iv) nitrate production via oxidation of organic N occurred three times faster in the pine soil while ammonium oxidation was similar in both soils, and (v) dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium was detected in both soils but was higher in the oak soil. We conclude that the higher gross nitrification (including oxidation of organic N) in the pine soil compared to the oak soil, combined with negligible nitrate immobilization, is in line with the observed higher nitrate leaching under the pine forest.

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