, Volume 155, Issue 3, pp 583–592 | Cite as

Differential effects of sugar maple, red oak, and hemlock tannins on carbon and nitrogen cycling in temperate forest soils

Ecosystem Ecology - Original Paper


Tannins are abundant secondary chemicals in leaf litter that are hypothesized to slow the rate of soil-N cycling by binding protein into recalcitrant polyphenol–protein complexes (PPCs). We studied the effects of tannins purified from sugar maple, red oak, and eastern hemlock leaf litter on microbial activity and N cycling in soils from northern hardwood–conifer forests of the northeastern US. To create ecologically relevant conditions, we applied tannins to soil at a concentration (up to 2 mg g−1 soil) typical of mineral soil horizons. Sugar maple tannins increased microbial respiration significantly more than red oak or hemlock tannins. The addition of sugar maple tannins also decreased gross N mineralization by 130% and, depending upon the rate of application, decreased net rates of N mineralization by 50–290%. At low concentrations, the decrease in mineralization appeared to be driven by greater microbial-N immobilization, while at higher concentrations the decrease in mineralization was consistent with the formation of recalcitrant PPCs. Low concentrations of red oak and hemlock tannins stimulated microbial respiration only slightly, and did not significantly affect fluxes of inorganic N in the soil. When applied to soils containing elevated levels of protein, red oak and hemlock tannins decreased N mineralization without affecting rates of microbial respiration, suggesting that PPC formation decreased substrate availability for microbial immobilization. Our results indicate that tannins from all three species form recalcitrant PPCs, but that the degree of PPC formation and its attendant effect on soil-N cycling depends on tannin concentration and the pool size of available protein in the soil.


Tannin Nitrogen cycle Carbon cycle Polyphenol–protein complex 



We would like to thank the Great Mountain Forest Corporation and Jody Bronson, for their support of the research conducted at the Great Mountain Forest, and the State of Connecticut, Department of Environmental Protection, Natural Area Preserves Program for granting us access to the forests on the Canaan Mountain. Thanks also to Eddie Brzostek, Vikki Rodgers, and Anne Gallet-Budynek for their help with field and lab work, as well as for their support and review of this paper. This research complies with the current laws of United States and was supported by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (2000-00782).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyBoston UniversityBostonUSA

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