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Long-Term Nitrogen Storage and Soil Nitrogen Availability in Post-Fire Lodgepole Pine Ecosystems

Abstract

Long-term, landscape patterns in inorganic nitrogen (N) availability and N stocks following infrequent, stand-replacing fire are unknown but are important for interpreting the effect of disturbances on ecosystem function. Here, we present results from a replicated chronosequence study in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Wyoming, USA) directed at measuring inorganic N availability (ion-exchange resin bags) and ecosystem N pools among 77 lodgepole pine stands that varied in age and density. Inorganic N availability ranged from 0.07 to 3.20 μN bag−1 d−1 and nitrate (NO 3 ) was, on average, 65% of total resin-sorbed N. Total ecosystem N stocks (live + detrital + soil) averaged 109.9 ± 3.0 g N m−2 (range = 63.7–185.8 g N m−2). Live N was 14%, detrital N was 29%, and soil N was 57% of total stocks. Soil NO 3 , total ecosystem N, live N, and detrital N generally increased with stand age, but soil N stocks decreased. Models (AICc) to predict soil N availability and N stocks included soil P, soil Ca, bulk density, and pH in addition to age (adj R 2 ranged from 0.18 to 0.53) and density was included only for live N stocks. Patterns of N stocks and N availability with density were strongest for young stands (<20 years) regenerating from extensive fire in 1988; for example, litterfall N stocks increased with density (adj R 2 = 0.86, P < 0.001) but inorganic N availability declined (adj R 2 = 0.47, P < 0.003). Across the complex Yellowstone landscape, we conclude that N stocks and N availability are best predicted by a combination of local soil characteristics in addition to factors that vary at landscape scales (stand density and age). Overall, total ecosystem N stocks were recovered quickly following stand-replacing fire, suggesting that moderate increases in fire frequency will not affect long-term landscape N storage in Greater Yellowstone.

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Acknowledgments

This manuscript was greatly improved by the comments of two anonymous reviewers and the subject editor. We would like to thank Dan Tinker and Kelli Belden at the University of Wyoming Soils Analysis Lab for assistance with processing N extracts on the autoanalyzer at the University of Wyoming. We are indebted to the hard-working field crew (Kellen Nelson, Heather Lyons, Therese Tepe, Lance Farman, Lance East, Rick Arcano, Andy Whelan, Deborah Fritts, Lauren Alleman, Caitlin Balch-Burnett, Lisa Huttinger, Kevin Ruzicka, Megan Busick, and Brandon Corcoran), to those who completed the laboratory analyses and preparation (Kellen Nelson, Marc Barker, Chris Herron, Todd Hagadone, Tiann Heit, Kevin Ruzicka, Tiffany Minton, Lauren Alleman, Chris Martin, Ashlee Wallin, Becky Dritz, and Aliy Louie) and to Kellen Nelson for overseeing the CHN analysis at Colorado State University. We also thank Hank Harlow and Rich Viola at the University of Wyoming-National Park Research Center and the Department of Forest, Rangeland, and Watershed Stewardship at Colorado State University for 3 years of logistical support. This study was funded in part by a grant from the US Joint Fire Science Program to M.G. Ryan, M.G. Turner, W.H. Romme, and D.B. Tinker and in part from the Conservation and Environment Program of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

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Correspondence to Erica A. H. Smithwick.

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EAHS, MGT, and MGR conceived the study; DMK performed field research; EAHS and DMK oversaw laboratory analyses and analyzed data; EAHS wrote the paper.

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Smithwick, E.A.H., Kashian, D.M., Ryan, M.G. et al. Long-Term Nitrogen Storage and Soil Nitrogen Availability in Post-Fire Lodgepole Pine Ecosystems. Ecosystems 12, 792–806 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-009-9257-1

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Keywords

  • nitrate
  • ammonium
  • chronosequence
  • succession
  • density
  • yellowstone
  • Pinus contorta