Ecosystems

, Volume 10, Issue 7, pp 1133–1147 | Cite as

Changes in Canopy Processes Following Whole-Forest Canopy Nitrogen Fertilization of a Mature Spruce-Hemlock Forest

  • E. Gaige
  • D. B. Dail
  • D. Y. Hollinger
  • E. A. Davidson
  • I. J. Fernandez
  • H. Sievering
  • A. White
  • W. Halteman
Article

Abstract

Most experimental additions of nitrogen to forest ecosystems apply the N to the forest floor, bypassing important processes taking place in the canopy, including canopy retention of N and/or conversion of N from one form to another. To quantify these processes, we carried out a large-scale experiment and determined the fate of nitrogen applied directly to a mature coniferous forest canopy in central Maine (18–20 kg N ha−1 y−1 as NH4NO3 applied as a mist using a helicopter). In 2003 and 2004 we measured NO3, NH4+, and total dissolved N (TDN) in canopy throughfall (TF) and stemflow (SF) events after each of two growing season applications. Dissolved organic N (DON) was greater than 80% of the TDN under ambient inputs; however NO3 accounted for more than 50% of TF N in the treated plots, followed by NH4+ (35%) and DON (15%). Although NO3 was slightly more efficiently retained by the canopy under ambient inputs, canopy retention of NH4+as a percent of inputs increased markedly under fertilization. Recovery of less than 30% of the fertilizer N in TF suggested that the forest canopy retained more than 70% of the applied N (>80% when corrected for N which bypassed tree surfaces at the time of fertilizer addition). Results from plots receiving 15N enriched NO3 and NH4+ confirmed bulk N estimations that more NO3 than NH4+ was washed from the canopy by wet deposition. The isotope data did not show evidence of canopy nitrification, as has been reported in other spruce forests receiving much higher N inputs. Conversions of fertilizer-N to DON were observed in TF for both 15NH4+ and 15NO3 additions, and occurred within days of the application. Subsequent rain events were not significantly enriched in 15N, suggesting that canopy DON formation was a rapid process related to recent N inputs to the canopy. We speculate that DON may arise from lichen and/or microbial N cycling rather than assimilation and re-release by tree tissues in this forest. Canopy retention of experimentally added N may meet and exceed calculated annual forest tree demand, although we do not know what fraction of retained N was actually physiologically assimilated by the plants. The observed retention and transformation of DIN within the canopy demonstrate that the fate and ecosystem consequences of N inputs from atmospheric deposition are likely influenced by forest canopy processes, which should be considered in N addition studies.

Keywords

nitrogen deposition canopy fertilization canopy N retention throughfall stemflow 15N tracer 

Supplementary material

10021_2007_9081_Fig4_ESM.jpg (1 mb)

Areal spraying of Howland Forest: Dissolved ammonium nitrate (18 kg N/ha/growing season) was applied to the canopy in 5 equally spaced doses from May to September.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. Gaige
    • 1
  • D. B. Dail
    • 1
  • D. Y. Hollinger
    • 2
  • E. A. Davidson
    • 3
  • I. J. Fernandez
    • 1
  • H. Sievering
    • 4
  • A. White
    • 5
  • W. Halteman
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Plant, Soil, and Environmental SciencesUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.US Forest ServiceNorthern Region Research StationDurhamUSA
  3. 3.Woods Hole Research CenterFalmouthUSA
  4. 4.Geography and Environmental SciencesUniversity of Colorado-DenverDenverUSA
  5. 5.Forest Ecosystem ScienceSchool of Forest Resources, University of MaineOronoUSA
  6. 6.Math and StatisticsUniversity of MaineOronoUSA

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