Soil Ca alters processes contributing to C and N retention in the Oa/A horizon of a northern hardwood forest

Abstract

Recent studies on the effects of calcium (Ca) additions on soil carbon (C) cycling in organic soil horizons present conflicting results, with some studies showing an increase in soil C storage and others a decrease. We tested the legacy effects of soil Ca additions on C and nitrogen (N) retention in a long-term incubation of soils from a plot-scale field experiment at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, NH, USA. Two levels of Ca (850 and 4250 kg Ca/ha) were surface applied to field plots as the mineral wollastonite (CaSiO3) in summer of 2006. Two years after field Ca additions, Oa/A horizon soils were collected from field plots and incubated in the laboratory for 343 days to test Ca effects on C mineralization, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) export, and net N transformations. To distinguish mineralization of soil organic C (SOC) from that of more recent C inputs to soil, we incubated soils with and without added 13C-labeled sugar maple leaf litter. High Ca additions increased exchangeable Ca and pH compared to the control. While low Ca additions had little effect on mineralization of SOC or added litter C, high Ca additions reduced mineralization of SOC and enhanced mineralization of litter C. In litter-free incubations, δ13C of respired C was enriched in the high Ca treatment compared to the control, indicating that Ca suppressed mineralization of 13C-depleted SOC sources. Leaching of DOC and NH4 + were reduced by Ca additions in litter-free and litter-amended soils. Our results suggest that Ca availability in these organic soils influences mineralization of SOC and N primarily by stabilization processes and only secondarily through pH effects on organic matter solubility, and that SOC binding processes become important only with relatively large alterations of Ca status.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Lisa Martel, Tera Ratliff, and many other members of the Fisk Lab for their assistance in the field and laboratory. We also thank the insightful comments of two anonymous reviewers. This study was supported by the USDA National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program Grant #: 2005-35107-16200, by a Grant from the National Science Foundation, and by the Miami University Department of Zoology Field Study and Research program. This project is a contribution to the Hubbard Brook Ecosystem Study. The Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest is operated and maintained by the Northeastern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Newtown Square, PA.

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Correspondence to Kevan J. Minick.

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Minick, K.J., Fisk, M.C. & Groffman, P.M. Soil Ca alters processes contributing to C and N retention in the Oa/A horizon of a northern hardwood forest. Biogeochemistry 132, 343–357 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-017-0307-z

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Keywords

  • Acid deposition
  • Calcium
  • 13C
  • Isotope
  • Carbon mineralization
  • Microbial activity
  • Nitrogen