Short-term and long-term effects of tannins on nitrogen mineralisation and litter decomposition in kauri (Agathis australis (D. Don) Lindl.) forests
Kauri (Agathis australis (D. Don) Lindl.) occurs naturally in the warm temperate forest of northern New Zealand where it grows mixed with angiosperm tree species. Below mature kauri trees thick organic layers develop in which large amounts of nitrogen are accumulated. This nitrogen seems to be inaccessible to plants. While litter quality can explain the low decomposition rate below kauri, it is not known what causes the accumulation of nitrogen. We hypothesised that kauri tannins reduce nitrogen mineralisation and litter decomposition below kauri. We further hypothesised that high tannin concentrations in the soil would increase the availability of dissolved organic nitrogen relative to the availability of inorganic nitrogen. To test these hypotheses a laboratory incubation was carried out for 1 year. Purified tannins of kauri and of two other common New Zealand tree species were added to samples of the soil organic layer from under a kauri tree. The results suggest that during the first month of incubation the added tannins reduced nitrogen availability by sequestering proteins or by stimulating nitrogen immobilisation. In the long-term, the reduced nitrogen release, which was found following tannin addition, seems attributable to the complexation of proteins by tannins. It further appeared that the addition of tannins did not change the ratio of dissolved organic nitrogen to inorganic nitrogen in the long-term. We conclude that the effect of kauri tannins on nitrogen release offers a good explanation for the accumulation of nitrogen below kauri trees.