Soil denitrification fluxes from three northeastern North American forests across a range of nitrogen deposition

Abstract

In northern forests, large amounts of missing N that dominate N balances at scales ranging from small watersheds to large regional drainage basins may be related to N-gas production by soil microbes. We measured denitrification rates in forest soils in northeastern North America along a N deposition gradient to determine whether N-gas fluxes were a significant fate for atmospheric N inputs and whether denitrification rates were correlated with N availability, soil O2 status, or forest type. We quantified N2 and N2O fluxes in the laboratory with an intact-core method and monitored soil O2, temperature and moisture in three forests differing in natural and anthropogenic N enrichment: Turkey Lakes Watershed, Ontario; Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire; and Bear Brook Watershed, Maine (fertilized and reference plots in hardwood and softwood stands). Total N-gas flux estimates ranged from <1 in fertilized hardwood uplands at Bear Brook to >100 kg N ha−1 year−1 in hardwood wetlands at Turkey Lakes. N-gas flux increased systematically with natural N enrichment from soils with high nitrification rates (Bear Brook < Hubbard Brook < Turkey Lakes) but did not increase in the site where N fertilizer has been added since 1989 (Bear Brook). Our results show that denitrification is an important and underestimated term (1–24 % of atmospheric N inputs) in N budgets of upland forests in northeastern North America, but it does not appear to be an important sink for elevated anthropogenic atmospheric N deposition in this region.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Don Buso, Tammy Wooster, Nick Grant, Alexandra Rodríguez, Neil Bettez, Lisa Martel, Kate Shepard, Erica Morgan, Robin Schmidt, and Madeleine Mineau for excellent field, laboratory, and data analysis work. This research was supported by the Northeastern States Research Cooperative and the National Science Foundation (DEB no. 0949664 and DEB no. 0919047). This research was conducted in part at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, which is operated by the Northeastern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. This paper is a contribution to the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study.

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Correspondence to Jennifer L. Morse.

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Communicated by Hormoz BassiriRad.

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Morse, J.L., Durán, J., Beall, F. et al. Soil denitrification fluxes from three northeastern North American forests across a range of nitrogen deposition. Oecologia 177, 17–27 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-014-3117-1

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Keywords

  • Nitrification
  • Northern forests
  • Nitrogen deposition
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Nitrogen enrichment
  • Soil oxygen