Minor contribution of leaf litter to N nutrition of beech (Fagus sylvatica) seedlings in a mountainous beech forest of Southern Germany

Abstract

Aims

Our aims were to characterize the fate of leaf-litter-derived nitrogen in the plant-soil-microbe system of a temperate beech forest of Southern Germany and to identify its importance for N nutrition of beech seedlings.

Methods

15N-labelled leaf litter was traced in situ into abiotic and biotic N pools in mineral soil as well as into beech seedlings and mycorrhizal root tips over three growing seasons.

Results

There was a rapid transfer of 15N into the mineral soil already 21 days after tracer application with soil microbial biomass initially representing the dominant litter-N sink. However, 15N recovery in non-extractable soil N pools strongly increased over time and subsequently became the dominant 15N sink. Recovery in plant biomass accounted for only 0.025 % of 15N excess after 876 days. After three growing seasons, 15N excess recovery was characterized by the following sequence: non-extractable soil N >> extractable soil N including microbial biomass >> plant biomass > ectomycorrhizal root tips.

Conclusions

After quick vertical dislocation and cycling through microbial N pools, there was a rapid stabilization of leaf-litter-derived N in non-extractable N pools of the mineral soil. Very low 15N recovery in beech seedlings suggests a high importance of other N sources such as root litter for N nutrition of beech understorey.

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Acknowledgements

Funding of this work by the German Research Foundation/Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) within the framework of the Beech Research Group under contract numbers FOR 788/1, KO 1035/29-1, RE 515/27-1 and PO 362/17-1 as well as the follow-up joint proposal under the contract numbers KO 1035/41-1, RE 515/33-1 and DA 1217/2-1 is gratefully acknowledged. Chanjuan Guo was financially supported by a scholarship from the China Scholarship Council (no. 2007U27036). Judy Simon was financially supported by the European Social Fund and by the Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts Baden-Württemberg. We like to acknowledge Martin Leberecht for help during sampling and Franz Buegger and Rudolf Meier for conducting stable isotope analyses. Furthermore we are grateful to Vitomira Erac and Regina Wiegel for help with laboratory work.

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Correspondence to Michael Dannenmann.

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Responsible Editor: Per Ambus.

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Guo, C., Simon, J., Gasche, R. et al. Minor contribution of leaf litter to N nutrition of beech (Fagus sylvatica) seedlings in a mountainous beech forest of Southern Germany. Plant Soil 369, 657–668 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11104-013-1603-6

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Keywords

  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Beech
  • 15N-labelled leaf litter
  • 15N tracing
  • Microbial biomass
  • Ectomycorrhiza