, Volume 111, Issue 1–3, pp 695–713 | Cite as

An in-depth look into a tropical lowland forest soil: nitrogen-addition effects on the contents of N2O, CO2 and CH4 and N2O isotopic signatures down to 2-m depth

  • Birgit KoehlerEmail author
  • Marife D. Corre
  • Kristin Steger
  • Reinhard Well
  • Erwin Zehe
  • Juvia P. Sueta
  • Edzo Veldkamp


Atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition is rapidly increasing in tropical regions. We investigated how a decade of experimental N addition (125 kg N ha−1 year−1) to a seasonal lowland forest affected depth distribution and contents of soil nitrous oxide (N2O), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), as well as natural abundance isotopic signatures of N2O, nitrate (NO3 ) and ammonium (NH4 +). In the control plots during dry season, we deduced limited N2O production by denitrification in the topsoil (0.05–0.40 m) as indicated by: ambient N2O concentrations and ambient 15N-N2O signatures, low water-filled pore space (35–60%), and similar 15N signatures of N2O and NO3 . In the subsoil (0.40–2.00 m), we detected evidence of N2O reduction to N2 during upward diffusion, indicating denitrification activity. During wet season, we found that N2O at 0.05–2.00 m was mainly produced by denitrification with substantial further reduction to N2, as indicated by: lighter 15N-N2O than 15N-NO3 throughout the profile, and increasing N2O concentrations with simultaneously decreasing 15N-N2O enrichment with depth. These interpretations were supported by an isotopomer map and by a positive correlation between 18O-N2O and 15N-N2O site preferences. Long-term N addition did not affect dry-season soil N2O-N contents, doubled wet-season soil N2O-N contents, did not affect 15N signatures of NO3 , and reduced wet-season 15N signatures of N2O compared to the control plots. These suggest that the increased NO3 concentrations have stimulated N2O production and decreased N2O-to-N2 reduction. Soil CO2-C contents did not differ between treatments, implying that N addition essentially did not influence soil C cycling. The pronounced seasonality in soil respiration was largely attributable to enhanced topsoil respiration as indicated by a wet-season increase in the topsoil CO2-C contents. The N-addition plots showed reduced dry-season soil CH4-C contents and threshold CH4 concentrations were reached at a shallower depth compared to the control plots, revealing an N-induced stimulation of methanotrophic activity. However, the net soil CH4 uptake rates remained similar between treatments possibly because diffusive CH4 supply from the atmosphere largely limited CH4 oxidation.


Carbon dioxide Isotopes Methane Nitrogen Nitrous oxide Panama PLFA Tropical forest 



We thank Rodolfo Rojas, Carlos Sanchez, Erick Diaz and Olivier Gonzalez for their dedicated assistance during installation of field instruments, sampling and laboratory analyses; Kerstin Langs, Lars Szwec and Reinhard Langel for laboratory and isotopic analyses; Norman Loftfield for his advice on gas analytical procedures; Lars Tranvik for giving us the opportunity to conduct the PLFA measurements; Uwe Ehret, Anders Grusell and Luitgard Schwendenmann for helpful discussions; S. Joseph Wright for hosting our study in the Gigante fertilization project, discussions and support; the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute for excellent logistical and technical support. We thank two anonymous referees for their very thoughtful and constructive reviews which greatly improved the manuscript, and Jan Mulder for serving as editor. This study was funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation as part of the independent research group NITROF. M. D. Corre acknowledges funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Co 749/1-1). B. Koehler acknowledges funding by a scholarship from the ‘Technische Universität München’ within the framework ‘Advancement of women in sciences’, and from Harald Horn at the Institute of Water Quality Control, Munich.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Birgit Koehler
    • 1
    Email author
  • Marife D. Corre
    • 2
  • Kristin Steger
    • 1
    • 5
  • Reinhard Well
    • 3
  • Erwin Zehe
    • 4
  • Juvia P. Sueta
    • 2
  • Edzo Veldkamp
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Limnology, Evolutionary Biology CentreUppsala UniversityUppsalaSweden
  2. 2.Buesgen Institute, Soil Science of Tropical and Subtropical EcosystemsGeorg-August-University of GoettingenGoettingenGermany
  3. 3.Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut, Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and FisheriesInstitute of Agricultural Climate ResearchBraunschweigGermany
  4. 4.Karlsruhe Institute of TechnologyInstitute of Water Resources and River Basin ManagementKarlsruheGermany
  5. 5.Indo-German Centre for SustainabilityIndian Institute of Technology MadrasChennaiIndia

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