, Volume 108, Issue 1–3, pp 259–277 | Cite as

In situ gross nitrogen transformations differ between temperate deciduous and coniferous forest soils

  • Jeroen StaelensEmail author
  • Tobias Rütting
  • Dries Huygens
  • An De Schrijver
  • Christoph Müller
  • Kris Verheyen
  • Pascal Boeckx


Despite long-term enhanced nitrogen (N) inputs, forests can retain considerable amounts of N. While rates of N inputs via throughfall and N leaching are increased in coniferous stands relative to deciduous stands at comparable sites, N leaching below coniferous stands is disproportionally enhanced relative to the N input. A better understanding of factors affecting N retention is needed to assess the impact of changing N deposition on N cycling and N loss of forests. Therefore, gross N transformation pathways were quantified in undisturbed well-drained sandy soils of adjacent equal-aged deciduous (pedunculate oak (Quercus robur L.)) and coniferous (Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.)) planted forest stands located in a region with high N deposition (north Belgium). In situ inorganic 15N labelling of the mineral topsoil (0–10 cm) combined with numerical data analysis demonstrated that (i) all gross N transformations differed significantly (p < 0.05) between the two forest soils, (ii) gross N mineralization in the pine soil was less than half the rate in the oak soil, (iii) meaningful N immobilization was only observed for ammonium, (iv) nitrate production via oxidation of organic N occurred three times faster in the pine soil while ammonium oxidation was similar in both soils, and (v) dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium was detected in both soils but was higher in the oak soil. We conclude that the higher gross nitrification (including oxidation of organic N) in the pine soil compared to the oak soil, combined with negligible nitrate immobilization, is in line with the observed higher nitrate leaching under the pine forest.


Forest type Mineralization Nitrification 15Nutrient cycling Tracing model 



We thank Evy Ampoorter, Lander Baeten, Dries Roobroeck, Margot Vanhellemont, and Luc Willems for their help with the nitrogen additions and soil processing, and Eric Gillis, Katja Van Nieuland, and Jan Vermeulen for assisting in the laboratory work. Mme Goossens and Natuurpunt vzw are acknowledged for the kind permission to use their forest stands for this research project. We would like to thank the associate editor and two anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on the manuscript. The first, third and fourth author were funded as postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation-Flanders (FWO) and the second author is supported by NitroEurope IP under the EC 6th Framework Programme (Contract No. 017841).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeroen Staelens
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Tobias Rütting
    • 3
  • Dries Huygens
    • 1
    • 4
  • An De Schrijver
    • 2
  • Christoph Müller
    • 5
    • 6
  • Kris Verheyen
    • 2
  • Pascal Boeckx
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory of Applied Physical Chemistry, ISOFYSGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  2. 2.Laboratory of ForestryGhent UniversityGontrodeBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Plant and Environmental SciencesUniversity of GothenburgGothenburgSweden
  4. 4.Instituto de Ingeniería Agraria y SuelosUniversidad Austral de ChileValdiviaChile
  5. 5.Department of Plant EcologyJustus-Liebig-University GiessenGiessenGermany
  6. 6.School of Biology and Environmental ScienceUniversity College DublinDublinIreland

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