, Volume 54, Issue 2, pp 131-146

Rapid abiotic transformation of nitrate in an acid forest soil

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Nitrate immobilization into organic matter isthought to require catalysis by the enzymes ofsoil microorganisms. However, recent studiessuggest that nitrate added to soil isimmobilized rapidly and this process mayinclude abiotic pathways. We amended living andsterilized soil with 15N-labeled nitrateand nitrite to investigate biotic and abioticimmobilization. We report rapid transformationof nitrate in incubations of the O layer offorest soils that have been sterilized toprevent microbial activity and to denaturemicrobial enzymes. Approximately 30, 40, and60% of the 15N-labeled nitrate added tolive, irradiated, or autoclaved organic horizonsoil disappeared from the extractableinorganic-N pool in less than 15 minutes. About5% or less of the nitrate was recovered asinsoluble organic N in live and sterilizedsoil, and the remainder was determined to besoluble organic N. Added 15N-nitrite,however, was either lost to gaseous N orincorporated into an insoluble organic N formin both live and sterile organic soils. Hence,the fate and pathway of apparent abioticnitrate immobilization differs from thebetter-known mechanisms of nitrite reactionswith soil organic matter. Nitrate and nitriteadded to live A-horizon soil was largelyrecovered in the form added, suggesting thatrapid conversion of nitrate to solubleorganic-N may be limited to C-rich organichorizons. The processes by which this temperateforest soil transforms added nitrate to solubleorganic-N cannot be explained by establishedmechanisms, but appears to be due to abioticprocesses in the organic horizon.