Changes in soil nitrogen cycling in a northern temperate forest ecosystem during succession

TitleChanges in soil nitrogen cycling in a northern temperate forest ecosystem during succession
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsNave L.E, Sparks J.P, Le Moine J., Hardiman B.S, Nadelhoffer K.J, Tallant J.M, Vogel C.S, Strahm B.D, Curtis P.S

Nitrogen (N) transformations in forest soils are fundamentally important to plant and microbial N nutrition and the N balance of forest ecosystems, but changes in the patterns and rates of N transformations during forest succession are poorly understood. In order to better understand how soil N cycling changes during ecosystem succession, we analyzed four years of soil N cycling measurements in a 90-year-old secondary forest undergoing dieback of early-successional, dominant canopy trees. We expected that tree mortality would decrease root biomass, leading to increased soil NH4 + availability, and that these changes would prompt fundamental shifts in the N cycle such as the initiation of significant nitrification and increased cycling of oxidized N compounds in gas phase and soil solution. As expected, indices of soil NH4 + and NO3 − availability increased with successional stage (defined as the proportion of dead trees), and were negatively correlated with the amount of fine root biomass. However, the standing amount of fine root biomass was not affected by tree mortality; increased soil NH4 + and NO3 − availability therefore more likely resulted from successional increases in N-mineralization than decreases in root N uptake. Nitrification (as indicated by NO efflux as a proxy) increased due to elevated substrate (NH4 +) availability, and the soil solution NO3 − concentration increased as a result. Soil N2O efflux was not affected by succession, nor was it related to other N cycling parameters. Collectively, these results indicate that recent successional advancement has accelerated soil N cycling and shifted the N economy of this ecosystem towards greater importance of NO3 −.