Effect of human activities on forest ecosystems: N cycle and soil fertility

Abstract

Forests are important terrestrial ecosystems, with particular nutrient cycling mechanisms to maintain structure and functions. Nitrogen is essential for forest growth and development, and commonly limited for the forest productivity. N cycles in forest ecosystems are frequently disturbed by intensive human activities. Based on a variety of research results, some potentially important human disturbances are discussed and their effects on forest ecosystems are reviewed. Precipitation is a considerable N input to forest ecosystems. However acid precipitation is detrimental to the ecosystems in the long run. Acidification causes remarkable reduction in forest productivity in the world, due to the harmful effect of acid on plant physiology and more importantly to the reduction in soil fertility by lowering mineralization and increasing N loss by runoff and leaching. The most important nutrient cycling mechanism in forest ecosystems is litterfall. Removal of trunks only for commercial use will not affect N cycle in forest ecosystems significantly, but attention on the intensity and rotation times of harvest should be paid. Clear-cutting should be prevented in forest harvesting. It deserves more attention that the change of environment after clear-cutting will affect the N cycling processes in forest ecosystems, which substantially influence soil fertility and forest productivity. Ammonification and nitrification processes are stimulated after harvesting, by which N is becoming more moveable. Unfortunately in the situation of no assimilation after clear-cutting, much of N will be lost out of the ecosystems and soil fertility will be diminished. The N pool in forest floor and underlying mineral soil is big, but forest productivity is generally low in natural conditions. Forest management is needed to meet the increasing demand for forest products. Optimization of stands structure is the most economic way to increase soil fertility and forest productivity. Mixed coniferous-broad leaved forest is recommended for plantation practice. Addition of fertilizer N effectively promotes forest productivity and may compensate for the N loss from the systems by harvesting.

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Correspondence to G.X. Chen.

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Chen, G., Yu, K., Liao, L. et al. Effect of human activities on forest ecosystems: N cycle and soil fertility. Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems 57, 47–54 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1009880708469

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  • forest ecosystem
  • human activities
  • N cycle
  • soil fertility
  • nitrification