Large Loss of Dissolved Organic Nitrogen from Nitrogen-Saturated Forests in Subtropical China
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- Fang, Y., Zhu, W., Gundersen, P. et al. Ecosystems (2009) 12: 33. doi:10.1007/s10021-008-9203-7
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Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) has recently been recognized as an important component of terrestrial N cycling, especially under N-limited conditions; however, the effect of increased atmospheric N deposition on DON production and loss from forest soils remains controversial. Here we report DON and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) losses from forest soils receiving very high long-term ambient atmospheric N deposition with or without additional experimental N inputs, to investigate DON biogeochemistry under N-saturated conditions. We studied an old-growth forest, a young pine forest, and a young mixed pine/broadleaf forest in subtropical southern China. All three forests have previously been shown to have high nitrate (NO3−) leaching losses, with the highest loss found in the old-growth forest. We hypothesized that DON leaching loss would be forest specific and that the strongest response to experimental N input would be in the N-saturated old-growth forest. Our results showed that under ambient deposition (35–50 kg N ha−1 y−1 as throughfall input), DON leaching below the major rooting zone in all three forests was high (6.5–16.9 kg N ha−1 y−1). DON leaching increased 35–162% following 2.5 years of experimental input of 50–150 kg N ha−1 y−1. The fertilizer-driven increase of DON leaching comprised 4–17% of the added N. A concurrent increase in DOC loss was observed only in the pine forest, even though DOC:DON ratios declined in all three forests. Our data showed that DON accounted for 23–38% of total dissolved N in leaching, highlighting that DON could be a significant pathway of N loss from forests moving toward N saturation. The most pronounced N treatment effect on DON fluxes was not found in the old-growth forest that had the highest DON loss under ambient conditions. DON leaching was highly correlated with NO3− leaching in all three forests. We hypothesize that abiotic incorporation of excess NO3− (through chemically reactive NO2−) into soil organic matter and the consequent production of N-enriched dissolved organic matter is a major mechanism for the consistent and large DON loss in the N-saturated subtropical forests of southern China.