, Volume 148, Issue 4, pp 602–611 | Cite as

Successional and physical controls on the retention of nitrogen in an undisturbed boreal forest ecosystem

  • Richard E. Brenner
  • Richard D. Boone
  • Jeremy B. JonesJr
  • Kate Lajtha
  • Roger W. Ruess
Ecosystem Ecology


Floristic succession in the boreal forest can have a dramatic influence on ecosystem nutrient cycling. We predicted that a decrease in plant and microbial demand for nitrogen (N) during the transition from mid- to late-succession forests would induce an increase in the leaching of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), relative to dissolved organic nitrogen (DON). To test this, we examined the chemistry of the soil solution collected from within and below the main rooting zones of mid- and late-succession forests, located along the Tanana River in interior Alaska. We also used a combination of hydrological and chemical analyses to investigate a key assumption of our methodology: that patterns of soil water movement did not change during this transition. Between stands, there was no difference in the proportion of DIN below the rooting zone. 84–98% of DIN at both depths consisted of nitrate, which was significantly higher in the deeper mineral soil than at the soil surface (0.46±0.12 mg NO 3 –N l−1 vs 0.17±0.12 mg NO 3 –N l−1, respectively), and 79–92% of the total dissolved N consisted of DON. Contrary to our original assumption that nutrients were primarily leached downward, out of the rooting zone, we found much evidence to suggest that the glacially-fed Tanana River (>200 m from these stands) was contributing to the influx of water and nutrients into the soil active layer of both stands. Soil water potentials were positively correlated with river discharge; and ionic and isotopic (δ18O of H2O) values of the soil solution closely matched those of river water. Thus, our ability to elucidate biological control over ecosystem N retention was confounded by riverine nutrient inputs. Climatic warming is likely to extend the season of glacial melt and increase riverine nutrient inputs to forests along glacially-fed rivers.


Boreal forest Capillary flow Nitrogen demand Primary succession Soil solution 



This research was supported with core NSF and USFS funds to the Bonanza Creek LTER (BNZ-LTER) program (NSF DEB 0080609 and USFS PNW01-JV11261592–231). Additional funding came from the Center for Global Change and the UAF Graduate School. We thank J. Garron and L. Oliver for stable isotope analysis, J. McFarland, A. Lecis and M. Helfrich for assistance in the field and D. Masiak for advice and assistance in the laboratory. K. Petrone and T. Dawson provided suggestions on nutrient chemistry and isotopic analysis. We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Richard E. Brenner
    • 1
    • 3
  • Richard D. Boone
    • 1
  • Jeremy B. JonesJr
    • 1
  • Kate Lajtha
    • 2
  • Roger W. Ruess
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Arctic BiologyUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.Department of Botany and Plant PathologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  3. 3.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of California BerkeleyBerkeleyUSA

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