, Volume 91, Issue 1, pp 1–11 | Cite as

Abiotic immobilization of nitrate in two soils of relic Abies pinsapo-fir forests under Mediterranean climate

  • Patricia Torres-Cañabate
  • Eric A. Davidson
  • Ekaterina Bulygina
  • Roberto García-Ruiz
  • Jose A. Carreira


Evidence for abiotic immobilization of nitrogen (N) in soil is accumulating, but remains controversial. Identifying the fate of N from atmospheric deposition is important for understanding the N cycle of forest ecosystems. We studied soils of two Abies pinsapo fir forests under Mediterranean climate seasonality in southern Spain—one with low N availability and the other with symptoms of N saturation. We hypothesized that biotic and abiotic immobilization of nitrate (NO3 ) would be lower in soils under these forests compared to more mesic temperate forests, and that the N saturated stand would have the lowest rates of NO3 immobilization. Live and autoclaved soils were incubated with added 15NO3 (10 μg N g−1 dry soil; 99% enriched) for 24 h, and the label was recovered as total dissolved-N, NO3 , ammonium (NH4 +), or dissolved organic-N (DON). To evaluate concerns about possible iron interference in analysis of NO3 concentrations, both flow injection analysis (FIA) and ion chromatography (IC) were applied to water extracts, soluble iron was measured in both water and salt extracts, and standard additions of NO3 to salt extracts were analyzed. Good agreement between FIA and IC analysis, low concentrations of soluble Fe, and 100% (±3%) recovery of NO3 standard additions all pointed to absence of an interference problem for NO3 quantification. On average, 85% of the added 15NO3 label was recovered as 15NO3 , which supports our hypothesis that rates of immobilization were generally low in these soils. A small amount (mean = 0.06 μg N g−1 dry soil) was recovered as 15NH4 + in live soils and none in sterilized soils. Mean recovery as DO15N ranged from 0.6 to 1.5 μg N g−1 dry soil, with no statistically significant effect of sterilization or soil type, indicating that this was an abiotic process that occurred at similar rates in both soils. These results demonstrate a detectable, but modest rate of abiotic immobilization of NO3 to DON, supporting our first hypothesis. These mineral soils may not have adequate carbon availability to support the regeneration of reducing microsites needed for high rates of NO3 reduction. Our second hypothesis regarding lower expected abiotic immobilization in soils from the N-saturated site was not supported. The rates of N deposition in this region may not be high enough to have swamped the capacity for soil NO3 immobilization, even in the stand showing some symptoms of N saturation. A growing body of evidence suggests that soil abiotic NO3 immobilization is common, but that rates are influenced by a combination of factors, including the presence of plentiful available carbon, reduced minerals in anaerobic microsites and adequate NO3 supply.


Ferrous-wheel hypothesis Retention Iron 15Nitrogen saturation status Nitrogen cycle 



This work was partially supported by Spanish Ministry of Science through project REN2003-09509 and a FPI fellowship that enabled Patricia Torres-Cañabate to carry out the present experiment at the Woods Hole Research Center. Eric Davidson thanks Chris Neill and the Marine Biological Laboratory for assistance with hosting a foreign scholar. This research was partially supported by NSF grant DEB-0212505.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patricia Torres-Cañabate
    • 1
  • Eric A. Davidson
    • 2
  • Ekaterina Bulygina
    • 2
  • Roberto García-Ruiz
    • 1
  • Jose A. Carreira
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Animal Biology, Vegetal Biology and EcologyUniversity of JaénJaénSpain
  2. 2.The Woods Hole Research CenterFalmouthUSA

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