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Leaky nitrogen cycle in pristine African montane rainforest soil

Journal article
Authors Tobias Rütting
L.C. Ntaboba
D Roobroeck
M Bauters
D Huygens
P Boeckx
Published in Global Biogeochemical Cycles
Volume 29
Issue 10
Pages 1754-1762
ISSN 0886-6236
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 1754-1762
Language en
Keywords tropicl forest, Rwanda, nitrogen, soil, 15N, stable isotopes, leaching
Subject categories Environmental Sciences, Geochemistry, Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences, Terrestrial ecology, Forest Science, Soil biology


Many pristine humid tropical forests show simultaneously high nitrogen (N) richness and sustained loss of bioavailable N forms. To better understand this apparent upregulation of the N cycle in tropical forests, process-based understanding of soil N transformations, in geographically diverse locations, remains paramount. Field-based evidence is limited and entirely lacking for humid tropical forests on the African continent. This study aimed at filling both knowledge gaps by monitoring N losses and by conducting an in situ 15N labeling experiment in the Nyungwe tropical montane forest in Rwanda. Here we show that this tropical forest shows high nitrate (NO3−) leaching losses, confirming findings from other parts of the world. Gross N transformation rates point to an open soil N cycle with mineralized N nitrified rather than retained via immobilization; gross immobilization of NH4+ and NO3− combined accounted for 37% of gross mineralization, and plant N uptake is dominated by ammonium (NH4+). This study provided new process understanding of soil N cycling in humid tropical forests and added geographically independent evidence that humid tropical forests are characterized by soil N dynamics and N inputs sustaining bioavailable N loss.

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