, Volume 57, Issue 1, pp 239-266

First online:

Forest nitrogen sinks in large eastern U.S. watersheds: estimates from forest inventory and an ecosystem model

  • Christine L. GoodaleAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Biology, Carnegie Institution of Washington Email author 
  • , Kate LajthaAffiliated withDepartment of Botany and Plant Pathology, Oregon State University, Oregon State University
  • , Knute J. NadelhofferAffiliated withMarine Biological Laboratory, The Ecosystems Center
  • , Elizabeth W. BoyerAffiliated withCollege of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York
  • , Norbert A. JaworskiAffiliated withRetired (US Environmental Protection Agency)

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The eastern U.S. receives elevated rates of Ndeposition compared to preindustrial times, yetrelatively little of this N is exported indrainage waters. Net uptake of N into forestbiomass and soils could account for asubstantial portion of the difference between Ndeposition and solution exports. We quantifiedforest N sinks in biomass accumulation andharvest export for 16 large river basins in theeastern U.S. with two separate approaches: (1)using growth data from the USDA ForestService's Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA)program, and (2) using a model of forestnitrogen cycling (PnET-CN) linked to FIAinformation on forest age-class structure. Themodel was also used to quantify N sinks in soiland dead wood, and nitrate losses below therooting zone. Both methods agreed that netgrowth rates were highest in the relativelyyoung forests on the Schuylkill watershed, andlowest in the cool forests of northern Maine. Across the 16 watersheds, wood export removedan average of 2.7 kg N ha−1 yr−1(range: 1–5 kg N ha−1 yr−1), andstanding stocks increased by 4.0 kg N ha−1yr−1 (−3 to 8 kg N ha−1 yr−1). Together, these sinks for N in woody biomassamounted to a mean of 6.7 kg N ha−1yr−1 (2–9 kg N ha−1 yr−1), or73% (15–115%) of atmospheric N deposition. Modeled rates of net N sinks in dead wood andsoil were small; soils were only a significantnet sink for N during simulations ofreforestation of degraded agricultural sites. Predicted losses of nitrate depended on thecombined effects of N deposition, and bothshort- and long-term effects of disturbance. Linking the model with forest inventoryinformation on age-class structure provided auseful step toward incorporating realisticpatterns of forest disturbance status acrossthe landscape.

forest growth forest inventories nitrogen budget nitrogen sinks nitrogen uptake wood production