Nitrate deposition in northern hardwood forests and the nitrogen metabolism of Acer saccharum Marsh

TitleNitrate deposition in northern hardwood forests and the nitrogen metabolism of Acer saccharum Marsh
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1996
AuthorsRothstein DE, Zak DR, Pregitzer KS

It is generally assumed that plant assimilation constitutes the major sink for anthropogenic nitrate NO3- deposited in temperate forests because plant growth is usually limited by nitrogen (N) availability. Nevertheless, plants are known to vary widely in their capacity for NO3- uptake and assimilation, and few studies have directly measured these parameters for overstory trees. Using a combination of field and greenhouse experiments, we studied the N nutrition of Acer saccharum Marsh. in four northern hardwood forests receiving experimental NO3- additions equivalent to 30 kg N /ha/year. We measured leaf and fine-root nitrate reductase activity (NRA) of overstory trees using an in vivo assay and used 15N to determine the kinetic parameters of NO3- uptake by excised fine roots. In two greenhouse experiments, we measured leaf and root NRA in A. saccharum seedlings fertilized with 0-3.5 g NO3-N/m2 and determined the kinetic parameters of NO3- and NH4+ uptake in excised roots of seedlings. In both overstory trees and seedlings, rates of leaf and fine root NRA were substantially lower than previously reported rates for most woody plants and showed no response to NO3- fertilization (range = non-detectable to 33 nmol NO2-/g/h). Maximal rates of NO3- uptake in overstory trees also were low, ranging from 0.2 to 1.0 umol/g/h). In seedlings, the mean Vmax for NO3- uptake in fine roots (1 umol/g/h) was approximately 30 times lower than the Vmax for NH4+ (33 umol/g/h). Our results suggest that A. saccharum satisfies its N demand through rapid NH4+ uptake and may have a limited capacity to serve as a direct sink for atmospheric additions of NO3-.