, Volume 99-100, Issue 1, pp 247-257

Soil nitrogen dynamics in a holm oak forest

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Abstract

Soil nitrogen (N) dynamics were studied in a dense, holm oak (Quercus ilex ssp. ilex) stand in the Montseny mountains to determine annual and seasonal patterns of N availability and uptake in an undisturbed Mediterranean forest on acidic soil. Soil mineral N content, net N mineralization (NNM), and net nitrification (NN) were determined by monthly sampling at two soil depths followed by in situ incubation in polyethylene bags. NNM per unit of soil mass was much higher at 0–5 cm than at 5–20 cm (annual means 24 and 2.5 mg N/kg, respectively) but on an area basis NNM was similar at both depths. A total of 80 kg N/ha/yr were mineralized from the first 20 cm of soil. NN amounted to only 9% of the annual NNM (7.5 kg N/ha/yr) and it occurred only in the upper 5 cm. NNM was maximum in June and July, while the NN peaked in May. Despite favourable soil temperature and moisture, NNM was negative in autumn because of microbial immobilization. Seasonal and depth variations of NNM appeared to be controlled more by substrate quality than by organic matter quantity, temperature or moisture. NN was not limited by ammonium availability. Calculated N uptake amounted to 91 kg/ha yr, peaking in June and July. The investigated stand showed a moderately high N availability, but ammonium was the major form of mineral N supply for holm oak.