, Volume 131, Issue 1–2, pp 229–242 | Cite as

Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus net mineralization in organic horizons of temperate forests: stoichiometry and relations to organic matter quality

  • Christine Heuck
  • Marie SpohnEmail author


The rates of mineralization processes influence C sequestration and soil fertility, but despite their importance for ecosystem functioning, C, N and P net mineralization rates are seldom investigated together. Hence, we studied the relationships between net mineralization rates and organic matter stoichiometry in an 8-week incubation experiment with Oi, Oe and Oa horizon material of six beech, one spruce and one pine site. We determined C, N and P net mineralization rates, organic C quality and C:N:P stoichiometry. Net N mineralization only occurred below molar organic matter C:N ratios of 40 (Oi) or 28 (Oa) and N:P ratios of 42 (Oi) or 60 (Oa), and increased with decreasing C:N and N:P ratios. Net P mineralization only occurred below C:P ratios of 1400 (Oi) and N:P ratios of 40 (Oi), and increased with decreasing C:P and N:P ratios. Net N and P mineralization were strongly positively correlated with each other (r = 0.64, p < 0.001), whereas correlations of both net N and net P mineralization with C mineralization were weak. The average C:N:P stoichiometry of net mineralization was 620:4:1 (beech, Oi), 15,350:5:1 (coniferous, Oi), 1520:8:1 (Oe) and 2160:36:1 (Oa). On average, ratios of C:N net mineralization were higher, and ratios of N:P net mineralization lower than organic matter C:N and N:P ratios. This difference contributed to the decrease of C:N ratios and increase of N:P ratios from the Oi to the Oa horizons. In conclusion, the study shows that C, N and P net mineralization rates were closely correlated with the organic matter stoichiometry and that these correlations were modified by the degree of decomposition of the organic matter.


Critical ratio Ecological stoichiometry Forest floor Nutrient cycling Respiration Threshold element ratio 



We thank Uwe Hell and Karin Söllner for their help with field sampling, sample preparation and laboratory work. We also thank the BayCEER Laboratory for Analytical Chemistry for their chemical analyses. This study was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as part of the project SP 1389/4-1 of the priority program “Ecosystem nutrition: Forest strategies for limited phosphorus resources” (SPP 1685).

Supplementary material

10533_2016_276_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 14 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Soil Biogeochemistry, Bayreuth Center of Ecology and Environmental Research (BayCEER)University BayreuthBayreuthGermany

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