, Volume 15, Issue 7, pp 1093–1107 | Cite as

Retention of Dissolved Inorganic Nitrogen by Foliage and Twigs of Four Temperate Tree Species

  • Sandy Adriaenssens
  • Jeroen Staelens
  • Karen Wuyts
  • Roeland Samson
  • Kris Verheyen
  • Pascal Boeckx


Nitrogen (N) retention by tree canopies is believed to be an important process for tree nutrient uptake, and its quantification is a key issue in determining the impact of atmospheric N deposition on forest ecosystems. Due to dry deposition and retention by other canopy elements, the actual uptake and assimilation by the tree canopy is often obscured in throughfall studies. In this study, 15N-labeled solutions (\( ^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \) and \( ^{15} {\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - } \)) were used to assess dissolved inorganic N retention by leaves/needles and twigs of European beech, pedunculate oak, silver birch, and Scots pine saplings. The effects of N form, tree species, leaf phenology, and applied \( {\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - } \) to \( {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \) ratio on the N retention were assessed. Retention patterns were mainly determined by foliar uptake, except for Scots pine. In twigs, a small but significant 15N enrichment was detected for \( {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \), which was found to be mainly due to physicochemical adsorption to the woody plant surface. The mean \( {{^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } } \mathord{\left/ {\vphantom {{^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } } {^{15} {\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - } }}} \right. \kern-\nulldelimiterspace} {^{15} {\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - } }} \) retention ratio varied considerably among species and phenological stadia, which indicates that the use of a fixed ratio in the canopy budget model could lead to an over- or underestimation of the total N retention. In addition, throughfall water under each branch was collected and analyzed for \( ^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \), \( ^{15} {\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - } \), and all major ions. Net throughfall of \( ^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \) was, on average, 20 times higher than the actual retention of \( ^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \) by the plant material. This difference in \( ^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \) retention could not be attributed to pools and fluxes measured in this study. The retention of \( ^{15} {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \) was correlated with the net throughfall of K+, Mg2+, Ca2+, and weak acids during leaf development and the fully leafed period, while no significant relationships were found for \( ^{15} {\text{NO}}_{3}^{ - } \) retention. This suggests that the main driving factors for \( {\text{NH}}_{4}^{ + } \) retention might be ion exchange processes during the start and middle of the growing season and passive diffusion at leaf senescence. Actual assimilation or abiotic uptake of N through leaves and twigs was small in this study, for example, 1–5% of the applied dissolved 15N, indicating that the impact of canopy N retention from wet deposition on forest productivity and carbon sequestration is likely limited.


nitrogen uptake atmospheric deposition throughfall stable isotopes canopy exchange 



We thank L. Willems, G. De bruyn, K. Van Nieuland, J. Vermeulen, K. Ceunen and A. Demey for field and laboratory assistance and M. Vanhellemont for proofreading of the manuscript. The first author is granted by a research project (G.0205.08N) of the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO). The second and third authors are funded as postdoctoral fellowships of the FWO and the Special Research Fund of Ghent University (BOF), respectively.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 82 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandy Adriaenssens
    • 1
    • 4
  • Jeroen Staelens
    • 1
    • 2
    • 5
  • Karen Wuyts
    • 1
    • 3
  • Roeland Samson
    • 3
  • Kris Verheyen
    • 1
  • Pascal Boeckx
    • 2
  1. 1.Forest and Nature LabGhent UniversityGontrode (Melle)Belgium
  2. 2.Laboratory of Applied Physical Chemistry-ISOFYSGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Bioscience EngineeringUniversity of AntwerpAntwerpenBelgium
  4. 4.Belgian Interregional Environment AgencyBrusselsBelgium
  5. 5.Flemish Environment AgencyAntwerpBelgium

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