, Volume 123, Issue 4, pp 550-559

Decomposition of 15N-labelled beech litter and fate of nitrogen derived from litter in a beech forest

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The decomposition and the fate of 15N- labelled beech litter was monitored in a beech forest (Vosges mountains, France) over 3 years. Circular plots around beech trees were isolated from neighbouring tree roots by soil trenching. After removal of the litter layer, 15N-labelled litter was distributed on the soil. Samples [labelled litter, soil (0–15 cm depths], fine roots, mycorrhizal root tips, leaves) were collected during the subsequent vegetation periods and analysed for total N and 15N concentration. Mass loss of the 15N-labelled litter was estimated using mass loss data from a litterbag experiment set up at the field site. An initial and rapid release of soluble N from the decomposing litter was balanced by the incorporation of exogenous N into the litter. Fungal N accounted for approximately 35% of the N incorporation. Over 2 years, litter N was continuously released and rates of N and mass loss were equivalent, while litter N was preferentially lost during the 3rd year. Released 15N accumulated essentially at the soil surface. 15N from the decomposing litter was rapidly (i.e. in 6 months) detected in roots and beech leaves and its level increased regularly and linearly over the course of the labelling experiment. After 3 years, about 2% of the original litter N had accumulated in the trees. 15N budgets indicated that soluble N was the main source for soil microbial biomass. Nitrogen accumulated in storage compounds was the main source of leaf N, while soil organic N was the main source of mycorrhizal N. Use of 15N-labelled beech litter as decomposing substrate allowed assessment of the fate of litter N in the soil and tree N pools in a beech forest on different time scales.

Received: 3 May 1999 / Accepted: 3 January 2000