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Nitrogen fixation in hardwood forests of the northeastern United States


Nitrogen-fixing activity in hardwood forests of the northeastern United States occurred in wood litter, greater than 2 cm in diameter. Activity in large dead wood was independent of species, in the case of deciduous wood litter, but was restricted to partially decayed wood with a high moisture content. Maximum rates of activity were observed in the summer months, minimum rates in the winter. Evidence from six stands of varying ages showed that fixation in large wood litter occurred in only 25% of the samples assayed.

Fixation was highest in the youngest, 4 years, and oldest, over 200 years, stands; being about 2 kg/ha/yr. The quantity of nitrogen fixed appears to be related to the biomass of dead wood. Large amounts of wood litter in the youngest stands were from slash left after cutting. As the supply of slash is exhausted by decay, nitrogen fixation decreases, with a low around year 20. Fixation then gradually increases as natural thinning adds wood to the litter compartment.

Apparently, the amount of nitrogen fixed in dead wood the first 20 years following clearcutting can only replace a modest fraction of the amount lost as a result of the cutting and product removal. Finally, the results indicate that nitrogen fixation in wood litter does not equal nitrogen fixation in a northern hardwood forest calculated using a mass balance approach, suggesting that additional nitrogen inputs exist.

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Roskoski, J.P. Nitrogen fixation in hardwood forests of the northeastern United States. Plant Soil 54, 33–44 (1980).

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Key Words

  • Acetylene reduction
  • Harwood forests
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • United States
  • Wood litter