Landscape Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 5, pp 581–593 | Cite as

Soil nitrogen and carbon dynamics in a fragmented landscape experiencing forest succession

  • S. A. BillingsEmail author
  • E. A. Gaydess
Research Article


Forest fragmentation is an increasingly common feature across the globe, but few studies examine its influence on biogeochemical fluxes. We assessed the influence of differences in successional trajectory and stem density with forest patch size on biomass quantity and quality and N transformations in the soil at an experimentally fragmented landscape in Kansas, USA. We measured N-related fluxes in the laboratory, not the field, to separate effects of microclimate and fragment edges from the effects of inherent biomass differences with patch size. We measured net N mineralization and N2O fluxes in soil incubations, gross rates of ammonification and nitrification, and microbial biomass in soils. We also measured root and litterfall biomass, C:N ratios, and δ13C and δ15N signatures; litterfall [cellulose] and [lignin]; and [C], [N], and δ13C and δ15N of soil organic matter. Rates of net N mineralization and N2O fluxes were greater (by 113% and 156%, respectively) in small patches than in large, as were gross rates of nitrification. These differences were associated with greater quantities of root biomass in small patch soil profiles (664.2 ± 233.3 vs 192.4 ± 66.2 g m−2 for the top 15 cm). These roots had greater N concentration than in large patches, likely generating greater root derived organic N pools in small patches. These data suggest greater rates of N cycling in small forested patches compared to large patches, and that gaseous N loss from the ecosystem may be related to forest patch size. The study indicates that the differences in successional trajectory with forest patch size can impart significant influence on soil N transformations in fragmented, aggrading woodlands.


Ecosystem fragmentation Soil organic matter Biomass quality Nitrogen transformations 15N pool dilution Forest succession Woodland development 



We thank Bruce Johanning, Galen Pittman, and Vaughn Salisbury of the KU Field Station and Ecological Reserves, and Charlene Billings, Drew Dodson, Laurel Haavik, Yen Le, Alison Olewnik, Alexis Reed, and Trisha Shrum for laboratory assistance. Several anonymous reviews and conversations with Drs. Bryan Foster, Bob Hagen, and Bob Holt were particularly helpful. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. EPS-0236913 and matching support from the State of Kansas through Kansas Technology Enterprise Corporation.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Kansas Biological SurveyUniversity of KansasLawrenceUSA

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