, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 103–127

Forest floor-mineral soil interactions in the internal nitrogen cycle of an old-growth forest

  • Stephen C. Hart
  • Mary K. Firestone

DOI: 10.1007/BF00001809

Cite this article as:
Hart, S.C. & Firestone, M.K. Biogeochemistry (1991) 12: 103. doi:10.1007/BF00001809


Seasonal patterns and annual rates of N inputs, outputs, and internal cycling were determined for an old-growth mixed-conifer forest floor in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Rates of net N mineralization within the forest floor, and plant N-uptake and leaching of inorganic N from the forest floor were 13, 10, and 9 kg-N ha-1 yr-1, respectively. The Mediterranean-type climate appeared to have a significant effect on N cycling within this forest, such that all N-process and flow rates showed distrinct seasonal patterns. We estimated the forest floor supplies less than one-third of the total aboveground plant N-uptake in this forest. The rate of net nitrification within the forest floor was always low (1 kg-NO3--N ha-1 30d-1). Mean residence times for organic matter and N in the forest floor were 13 and 34 years, respectively, suggesting that this forest floor layer is a site of net N immobilization within this ecosystem. We examined the influence of the forest floor on mineral soil N dynamics by injecting small amounts of15N-enriched (NH4)2SO4 solutions into the surface mineral soil with the forest floor present (+FF) or removed (-FF). K2SO4-extractable NO3--N, total inorganic-N, and total-N pool sizes in the mineral soil were initially increased after forest floor removal (after 4 months), but NO3--N and total inorganic-N were not significantly different thereafter. Microbial biomass-N and K2SO4-extractable total-N pool sizes were also found to be larger in mineral soils without a forest floor after 1 and 1.3 years, respectively. Total15N-recovery was greater in the +FF treatment compared to the -FF treatment after 1-year (about 50% and 35%, respectively) but did not differ after 1.3 years (both about 35%), suggesting that the forest floor delays but does not prevent the N-loss from the surface mineral soil of this forest. We estimated using our15N data that fungal translocation from the mineral soil to the forest floor may be as large as 9 kg-N ha-1 yr-1 (similar in magnitude to other N flows in this forest), and may account for all of the observed absolute increase of N in litter during the early stages of decomposition at this site. Our results suggest that the forest floor acts both as a source and sink for N in the mineral soil.

Key words

fungal translocationmicrobial biomass15NN leachingN mineralizatonnitrification

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stephen C. Hart
    • 2
    • 1
  • Mary K. Firestone
    • 1
  1. 1.Department Soil ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest ScienceOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA