, Volume 292, Issue 1-2, pp 243-258
Date: 09 Mar 2007

Effects of understory removal, N fertilization, and litter layer removal on soil N cycling in a 13-year-old white spruce plantation infested with Canada bluejoint grass

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

Canada bluejoint grass [Calamagrostis canadensis (Michx.) Beauv., referred to as bluejoint below] is a competitive understory species widely distributed in the boreal region in North America and builds up a thick litter layer that alters the soil surface microclimate in heavily infested sites. This study examined the effects of understory removal, N fertilization, and litter layer removal on litter decomposition, soil microbial biomass N (MBN), and net N mineralization and nitrification rates in LFH (the sum of organic horizons of litter, partially decomposed litter and humus on the soil surface) and mineral soil (0–10 cm) in a 13-year-old white spruce [Picea glauca (Moench.) Voss] plantation infested with bluejoint in Alberta, Canada. Removal of the understory vegetation and the litter layer together significantly increased soil temperature at 10 cm below the mineral soil surface by 1.7 and 1.3°C in summer 2003 and 2004, respectively, resulting in increased net N mineralization (by 1.09 and 0.14 mg N kg−1 day−1 in LFH and mineral soil, respectively, in 2004) and net nitrification rates (by 0.10 and 0.20 mg N kg−1 day−1 in LFH and mineral soil, respectively, in 2004). When the understory vegetation was intact, nitrification might have been limited by NH4 + availability due to competition for N from bluejoint and other understory species. Litter layer removal increased litter decomposition rate (percentage mass loss per month) from 2.6 to 3.0% after 15 months of incubation. Nitrogen fertilization did not show consistent effects on soil MBN, but increased net N mineralization and nitrification rates as well as available N concentrations in the soil. Clearly, understory removal combined with N fertilization was most effective in increasing rates of litter decomposition, net N mineralization and nitrification, and soil N availability. The management of understory vegetation dominated by bluejoint in the boreal region should consider the strong effects of understory competition and the accumulated litter layer on soil N cycling and the implications for forest management.