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Response of litter decomposition and related soil enzyme activities to different forms of nitrogen fertilization in a subtropical forest


With the continuing increase in the impact of human activities on ecosystems, ecologists are increasingly becoming interested in understanding the effects of nitrogen deposition on litter decomposition. At present, numerous studies have investigated the effects of single form of nitrogen fertilization on litter decomposition in forest ecosystems. However, forms of N deposition vary, and changes in the relative importance of different forms of N deposition are expected in the future. Thus, identifying the effects of different forms of N deposition on litter decomposition in forest ecosystems is a pressing task. In this study, two dominant litter types were chosen from Zijin Mountain in China: Quercus acutissima leaves from a late succession broad-leaved forest and Pinus massoniana needles from an early succession coniferous forest. The litter samples were incubated in microcosms with original forest soil and treated with four different forms of nitrogen fertilization [NH4 +, NO3 , CO(NH2)2, and a mix of all three]. During a 5-month incubation period, litter mass losses, soil pH values, and soil enzyme activities were determined. Results show that all four forms of nitrogen fertilization significantly accelerate litter decomposition rates in the broadleaf forest, while only two forms of nitrogen fertilization [i.e., mixed nitrogen and CO(NH2)2] significantly accelerate litter decomposition rates in the coniferous forest. Litter decomposition rates with the mixed nitrogen fertilization were higher than those in any single form of nitrogen fertilization. All forms of nitrogen fertilization enhanced soil enzyme activities (i.e., catalase, cellulase, invertase, polyphenol oxidase, nitrate reductase, urease, and acid phosphatase) during the litter decomposition process for the two forest types. Soil enzyme activities under the mixed nitrogen fertilization were higher than those under any single form of nitrogen fertilization. These results suggest that the type and activity of the major degradative enzymes involved in litter decomposition vary in different forest types under different forms of nitrogen fertilization. They also indicate that a long-term consequence of N deposition-induced acceleration of litter decomposition rates in subtropical forests may be the release of carbon stored belowground to the atmosphere.

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This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (30870419, 40971151) and the National Basic Research Program of China (2008CB418004). We are grateful to two anonymous referees for their critical and constructive comments that improved this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Xingjun Tian.

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C. Wang and G. Han contributed equally to this work.

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Wang, C., Han, G., Jia, Y. et al. Response of litter decomposition and related soil enzyme activities to different forms of nitrogen fertilization in a subtropical forest. Ecol Res 26, 505–513 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11284-011-0805-8

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  • Broad-leaved forest
  • Coniferous forest
  • Litter decomposition
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Soil enzyme