Exceedance of critical loads and of critical limits impacts tree nutrition across Europe
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Exceedance of critical limits in soil solution samples was more frequent in intensively monitored forest plots across Europe with critical loads for acidity and eutrophication exceeded compared to other plots from the same network. Elevated inorganic nitrogen concentrations in soil solution tended to be related to less favourable nutritional status.
Forests have been exposed to elevated atmospheric deposition of acidifying and eutrophying sulphur and nitrogen compounds for decades. Critical loads have been identified, below which damage due to acidification and eutrophication are not expected to occur.
We explored the relationship between the exceedance of critical loads and inorganic nitrogen concentration, the base cation to aluminium ratio in soil solutions, as well as the nutritional status of trees.
We used recent data describing deposition, elemental concentrations in soil solution and foliage, as well as the level of damage to foliage recorded at forest plots of the ICP Forests intensive monitoring network across Europe.
Critical loads for inorganic nitrogen deposition were exceeded on about a third to half of the forest plots. Elevated inorganic nitrogen concentrations in soil solution occurred more frequently among these plots. Indications of nutrient imbalances, such as low magnesium concentration in foliage or discolouration of needles and leaves, were seldom but appeared more frequently on plots where the critical limits for soil solution were exceeded.
The findings support the hypothesis that elevated nitrogen and sulphur deposition can lead to imbalances in tree nutrition.
KeywordsInorganic nitrogen concentration in soil solution Base cation to aluminium ratio Tree nutrition Foliage ICP Forests
We gratefully acknowledge the Programme Coordinating Centre of ICP Forests and all observers, technicians and scientists who performed sampling in the fields, analyses and data handling. The evaluation was mainly based on data that are part of the UNECE ICP Forests PCC Collaborative Database (see http://icp-forests.net). In particular, data from France (14 plots), Belgium (7 plots), the Netherlands (3 plots), Germany (77 plots), Italy (10 plots), the United Kingdom (8 plots), Ireland (2 plots), Denmark (6 plots), Greece (3 plots), Spain (3 plots), Austria (2 plots), Finland (17 plots), Switzerland (7 plots), Hungary (1 plot), Romania (4 plots), Poland (1 plot), the Slovak Republic (5 plots), Norway (8 plots), Lithuania (2 plots), the Czech Republic (11 plots), Estonia (5 plots), Slovenia (2 plots), Latvia (1 plot), Cyprus (2 plots) and Sweden (43 plots) were part of the analyses. In addition, throughfall data from the SWETHRO network were used for the 43 plots in Sweden. For soil, we used and acknowledge the aggregated forest soil condition database (AFSCDB.LII.2.1) compiled by the ICP Forests Forest Soil Coordinating Centre. The long-term collection of forest monitoring data was to a large extent funded by national research institutions and ministries, with support from governmental bodies, services and land owners. It was partially funded by the European Union under the Regulation (EC) No. 2152/2003 concerning monitoring of forests and environmental interactions in the Community (Forest Focus) and the project LIFE 07 ENV/D/000218 “Further Development and Implementation of an EU-level Forest Monitoring System (FutMon)”. We gratefully acknowledge the contribution of Matthias Dobbertin who passed away within the duration of this study.
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