Plant and Soil

, Volume 54, Issue 1, pp 33–44 | Cite as

Nitrogen fixation in hardwood forests of the northeastern United States

  • Joann P. Roskoski


Nitrogen-fixing activity in hardwood forests of the northeastern United States occurred in wood litter, greater than 2 cm in diameter. Activity in large dead wood was independent of species, in the case of deciduous wood litter, but was restricted to partially decayed wood with a high moisture content. Maximum rates of activity were observed in the summer months, minimum rates in the winter. Evidence from six stands of varying ages showed that fixation in large wood litter occurred in only 25% of the samples assayed.

Fixation was highest in the youngest, 4 years, and oldest, over 200 years, stands; being about 2 kg/ha/yr. The quantity of nitrogen fixed appears to be related to the biomass of dead wood. Large amounts of wood litter in the youngest stands were from slash left after cutting. As the supply of slash is exhausted by decay, nitrogen fixation decreases, with a low around year 20. Fixation then gradually increases as natural thinning adds wood to the litter compartment.

Apparently, the amount of nitrogen fixed in dead wood the first 20 years following clearcutting can only replace a modest fraction of the amount lost as a result of the cutting and product removal. Finally, the results indicate that nitrogen fixation in wood litter does not equal nitrogen fixation in a northern hardwood forest calculated using a mass balance approach, suggesting that additional nitrogen inputs exist.

Key Words

Acetylene reduction Harwood forests Nitrogen cycle Nitrogen fixation United States Wood litter 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Alexander, V., Billington, M. and Schell, D. 1974 The influence of abiotic factors on nitrogen fixation in the Barrow, Alaska, Artic Tundra. Ann. Univ. Turk. Sev. A. II Biol. Geog. Geol.55, 3–11.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bormann, F. H., Siccama, T. G., Likens, G. E. and Whittaker, R. H. 1970 The Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study: Composition and dynamics of the tree stratum. Ecol. Monogr.40, 373–388.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bormann, F. H., Likens, G. E. and Melillo, J. M. 1977 Nitrogen budget for an agrading northern hardwood forest ecosystem. Science96, 981.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bormann, F. H. and Likens, G. E. 1979 Pattern and Process in a Forested Ecosystem. Spring-Verlag, N.Y.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Cornaby, B. and Waide, J. B. 1973 Nitrogen fixation in decaying chestnut logs. Plant and Soil39, 445–448.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Covington, W. W. 1977 Secondary Succession in Northern Hardwoods: forest floor organic matter, nutrients and leaf fall. Ph.D. Thesis. Yale University.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Cowling E. B. and Merrill, W. 1966 Nitrogen in wood and its role in wood deterioration. Can. J. Bot.44, 1554–1554.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Englund, B. and Meyerson, H. 1974In situ measurements of nitrogen fixation at low temperatures. Oikos25, 283–287.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Federer, C. A. 1971 Annual cycles of soil and water temperature at Hubbard Brook. U.S. For. Serv. Res. Note N.E.167.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Gosz, J. R., Likens, G. E. and Bormann, F. H. 1973 Nutrient release from decomposing leaf and branch litter in the Hubbard Brook forest, N.H. Ecol. Monogr.43, 173–191.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Hardy, R. F. W., Holsten R. D., Jackson E. K. and Burns, R. C. 1968 The acetylene reduction assay for nitrogen fixation: laboratory and field evaluation. Plant Physiol.43, 1185–1207.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Johnson, N. M., Likens, G. E. and Bormann, F. H. 1966 Bulk chemical changes and rate of chemical weathering in Central New Hampshire. Trans. Am. Geo. Union47, 83–84.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Likens, G. E. and Bormann, F. H. 1970 Chemical analysis of plant tissues from the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem in Central New Hampshire. Yale Univ. School For. Bull.79.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Marks, P. 1974 The role of pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica L.) in the maintenance of stability in northern hardwood ecosystems. Ecol. Monogr.44, 73–88.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Martin, C. W. 1975 Relationships between Precipitation, Stream water Chemistry, and Vegetation for the Bowl, a forested Watershed in New Hampshire. Master's Thesis. University of New Hampshire.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Paul, E. A. 1978 Contribution of nitrogen fixation to ecosystem functioning and nitrogen fluxes on a global basis. Ecol. Bull.26, 282–293.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Pierce, R. S., Martin, C. W. Reeves, C. C., Likens, G. E. and Bormann, F. H. 1972 Nutrient losses from clearcutting in New Hampshire.In Symp. Proc. from Watersheds in Transition. Fort Collins, Col. U.S.A.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Postgate, J. R. 1971 The Chemistry and Bio-chemistry of Nitrogen Fixation. Plenum Press. London.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Roskoski, J. P. 1977 Nitrogen fixation in Northern Hardwood Forests. Ph.D. Thesis. Yale University.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Siccama, T. G., Bormann, F. H. and Likens, G. R. 1970 The Hubbard Brook ecosystem study: productivity, nutrients, and phytosociology of the herbaceous layer. Ecol. Monogr.40, 389–402.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Spaulding, P. and Handbrough, J. R. 1944 Decay of logging slash in the northeast. U.S.D.A. Tech. Bull.876.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Steel, R. G. D. and Torrie, J. H. 1960 Principles and Procedures of Statistics. McGraw-Hill Book Co. Inc. London.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Todd, R. L., Waide, J. B. and Cornaby, B. W. 1975 Significance of biological nitrogen fixation and denitrification in a deciduous forest ecosystem.In Mineral Cycling in Southeastern Ecosystems. E.R.D.A. Symposium Series (CONF-740513).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Todd, R. L., Meyer, R. D. and Waide, J. B. 1978 Nitrogen fixation in a deciduous forest in the southeastern United States. Ecol. Bull. (Stockholm)26, 172–177.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    White, E. H. 1974 Whole-tree harvesting depletes soil nutrients. Can. J. For. Res.4, 530–535.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Whittaker, R. H., Bormann, F. H., Likens, G. E. and Siccama, T. G. 1974 The Hubbard Brook ecosystem study: forest biomass and production. Ecol. Monogr.44, 233–254.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Wilde, S. A., Voigt, G. K. and Iyer, J. G. 1972 Soil and Plant Analysis for Tree Culture. Oxford and I.B.H. Publ. Co. New Delhi.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joann P. Roskoski
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Forestry and Environmental StudiesYale University, Greeley Memorial LabNew HavenUSA

Personalised recommendations