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