Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 589–595 | Cite as

Nitrogen deposition influences nitrogen isotope composition in soil and needles of Pinus massoniana forests along an urban-rural gradient in the Pearl River Delta of south China

  • Yuanwen Kuang
  • Fangfang Sun
  • Dazhi Wen
  • Zhihong Xu
  • Longbin Huang
  • Jiong Li



Atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition remains globally and regionally a significant N source in forest ecosystems, with intensive industrial activities. Stable N isotope ratio (δ15N) is a useful indicator widely adopted to assess environmental and ecological impacts of anthropogenic N inputs. On the basis of temporal changes in tree ring δ15N established recently, the present study investigated the influence of N deposition on δ15N in needles of Masson pine (Pinus massoniana L.) and forest soil along an urban–rural gradient in the Pearl River Delta of south China.

Materials and methods

Soil and needle samples were selected from South China Botanical Garden (SBG) in Guangzhou, Ding Hu Shan Natural Reserve (DHS) in Zhaoqing, and Nan Kun Shan Natural Reserve (NKS) in Huizhou. Five soil profiles at each site were sampled at three horizons: organic horizon (Oa), 0–10 and 10–20 cm depths, underneath the selected Masson pine trees. Soil samples were air-dried and sieved through 2 mm for analysis. Current-year and previous-year needles of Masson pine were collected from outer branches of the middle canopy at south, west, east, and north directions, and pooled according to needle age for each tree. Needles were rinsed, dried, ground, and stored in desiccator before analysis. Nitrogen isotope ratios were determined by Finnigan isotope mass spectrometer.

Results and discussion

Significant differences in soils (Oa and 0–10 cm depth layers) and needles along the urban–rural gradient were revealed with positively high δ15N values (+2.19 ± 1.43‰ in Oa, +6.67 ± 1.52‰ in 0–10 cm depth layer and about +1.0‰ in needles) at the rural site (NKS) and negatively low δ15N values (−5.51 ± 1.38‰ in Oa, −1.11 ± 1.36‰ in 0–10 cm depth layer and about −5.0‰ in needles) at the highest N deposition site (SBG). Needles exposed to high N deposition had significantly different δ15N values between age classes. The results suggested that atmospheric N deposition density contributed to the patterns of δ15N in soil and needles of Pinus massoniana along the urban–rural gradient.


The detectably decreasing trends of δ15N observed in the soils and pine needles from NKS to SBG implied that N deposition has influenced the forests N isotope composition. The patterns of soil- and needle-δ15N of Masson pine might be closely related to N deposition intensity. Values of δ15N in soils and needles were indicative of the gradient of urban–rural N deposition in the Pearl River Delta of south China.


Forest soil Nitrogen deposition δ15Pine needle Pinus massoniana 



This project has been jointly supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 30972365), National Basic Research Program of China (No. 2009CB421101), Guangdong Natural Science Foundation (No. 10151065005000001), and the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (No. KSCX2-EW-J-28). Dr David Doley from University of Queensland helped to improve the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yuanwen Kuang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Fangfang Sun
    • 3
    • 4
  • Dazhi Wen
    • 1
    • 2
  • Zhihong Xu
    • 5
  • Longbin Huang
    • 6
  • Jiong Li
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Key Laboratory of Vegetation Restoration and Management of Degraded Ecosystems, South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Pearl River Delta Research Center of Environmental Pollution and Control, Chinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of SciencesGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China
  4. 4.Graduate University of Chinese Academy of SciencesBeijingPeople’s Republic of China
  5. 5.Environmental Futures Centre, School of Biomolecular and Physical SciencesGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia
  6. 6.Centre for Mined Land Rehabilitation, Sustainable Minerals InstituteThe University of QueenslandBrisbaneAustralia

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