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Nitrogen, organic carbon and sulphur cycling in terrestrial ecosystems: linking nitrogen saturation to carbon limitation of soil microbial processes

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Abstract

Elevated and chronic nitrogen (N) deposition to N-limited terrestrial ecosystems can lead to ‘N saturation’, with resultant ecosystem damage and leaching of nitrate (NO3 ) to surface waters. Present-day N deposition, however, is often a poor predictor of NO3 leaching, and the pathway of the ecosystem transition from N-limited to N-saturated remains incompletely understood. The dynamics of N cycling are intimately linked to the associated carbon (C) and sulphur (S) cycles. We hypothesize that N saturation is associated with shifts in the microbial community, manifest by a decrease in the fungi-to-bacteria ratio and a transition from N to C limitation. Three mechanisms could lead to lower amount of bioavailable dissolved organic C (DOC) for the microbial community and to C limitation of N-rich systems: (1) Increased abundance of N for plant uptake, causing lower C allocation to plant roots; (2) chemical suppression of DOC solubility by soil acidification; and (3) enhanced mineralisation of DOC due to increased abundance of electron acceptors in the form of \({{\text{SO}}_{ 4}}^{ 2-}\) and NO3 in anoxic soil micro-sites. Here we consider each of these mechanisms, the extent to which their hypothesised impacts are consistent with observations from intensively-monitored sites, and the potential to improve biogeochemical models by incorporating mechanistic links to the C and S cycles.

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Acknowledgments

This study was supported by the Grant Agency of the Czech Republic (project No. P504/12/1218). We appreciate three anonymous reviewers who significantly improved our presentation.

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Kopáček, J., Cosby, B.J., Evans, C.D. et al. Nitrogen, organic carbon and sulphur cycling in terrestrial ecosystems: linking nitrogen saturation to carbon limitation of soil microbial processes. Biogeochemistry 115, 33–51 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-013-9892-7

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