, Volume 92, Issue 3, pp 201-215
Date: 24 Jan 2009

Soil amino-acid availability across a temperate-forest fertility gradient

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Despite increasing recognition that free amino acids can be an important source of N for plant uptake, we have a poor understanding of environmental variation in the availability of amino-acid N in soils outside of arctic, alpine and boreal regions. I investigated patterns of amino-acid availability along a temperate forest fertility gradient ranging from low mineral N availability, oak-dominated forests to high mineral N availability, maple-basswood forests (5 sites). I measured standing pools of free amino acids, soluble peptides, ammonium and nitrate, rates of amino acid production (native proteolysis activity) and rates of consumption of a 15N-labeled leucine tracer. Standing pools of amino acid N decreased consistently along the fertility gradient from the low fertility black oak/white oak system to the high fertility sugar maple/basswood system, with a 25-fold difference in pool sizes between the poorest and richest sites. Standing pools of soluble peptides varied little among sites, instead, the relationship between free amino acids and peptides changed markedly across the gradient. At low fertility sites free amino acids were positively correlated with soluble peptides, whereas free amino acid pools were universally low at high fertility sites, regardless of peptide pools. Assays for native proteolysis activity indicated that amino acid production did not vary significantly among sites. Recovery of leucine tracer in inorganic (NH4 + and NO3 ) pools and in residual soil organic matter both increased with increasing soil fertility; however, total consumption of the added amino-acid tracer did not vary among sites. Results from this study demonstrate that free amino acids can make an important contribution to potentially plant-available N pools in temperate forest soils, particularly at low fertility sites.