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Effects of a clearcut on the net rates of nitrification and N mineralization in a northern hardwood forest, Catskill Mountains, New York, USA

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Abstract.

The Catskill Mountains of southeastern New York receive among the highest rates of atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition in eastern North America, and ecosystems in the region may be sensitive to human disturbances that affect the N cycle. We studied the effects of a clearcut in a northern hardwood forest within a 24-ha Catskill watershed on the net rates of N mineralization and nitrification in soil plots during 6 years (1994–1999) that encompassed 3-year pre- and post-harvesting periods. Despite stream NO3 concentrations that increased by more than 1400 μmol l−1 within 5 months after the clearcut, and three measures of NO3 availability in soil that increased 6- to 8-fold during the 1st year after harvest, the net rates of N mineralization and nitrification as measured by in situ incubation in the soil remained unchanged. The net N-mineralization rate in O-horizon soil was 1– 2 mg N kg−1 day−1 and the net nitrification rate was about 1 mg N kg−1 day−1, and rates in B-horizon soil were only one-fifth to one-tenth those of the O-horizon. These rates were obtained in single 625 m2 plots in the clearcut watershed and reference area, and were confirmed by rate measurements at 6 plots in 1999 that showed little difference in N-mineralization and nitrification rates between the treatment and reference areas. Soil temperature increased 1 ± 0.8 °C in a clearcut study plot relative to a reference plot during the post-harvest period, and soil moisture in the clearcut plot was indistinguishable from that in the reference plot. These results are contrary to the initial hypothesis that the clearcut would cause net rates of these N-cycling processes to increase sharply. The in situ incubation method used in this study isolated the samples from ambient roots and thereby prevented plant N uptake; therefore, the increases in stream NO3 concentrations and export following harvest largely reflect diminished uptake. Changes in temperature and moisture after the clearcut were insufficient to measurably affect the net rates of N mineralization and nitrification in the absence of plant uptake. Soil acidification resulting from the harvest may have acted in part to inhibit the rates of these processes.

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Correspondence to Douglas A. Burns.

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Burns, D.A., Murdoch, P.S. Effects of a clearcut on the net rates of nitrification and N mineralization in a northern hardwood forest, Catskill Mountains, New York, USA. Biogeochemistry 72, 123–146 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-004-0355-z

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