N-fixing trees in restoration plantings: Effects on nitrogen supply and soil microbial communities

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Abstract

Mixed-species restoration tree plantings are being established increasingly, contributing to mitigate climate change and restore ecosystems. Including nitrogen (N)-fixing tree species may increase carbon (C) sequestration in mixed-species plantings, as these species may substantially increase soil C beneath them. We need to better understand the role of N-fixers in mixed-species plantings to potentially maximize soil C sequestration in these systems. Here, we present a field-based study that asked two specific questions related to the inclusion of N-fixing trees in a mixed-species planting: 1) Do non-N-fixing trees have access to N derived from fixation of atmospheric N2 by neighbouring N-fixing trees? 2) Do soil microbial communities differ under N-fixing trees and non-N-fixing trees in a mixed-species restoration planting? We sampled leaves from the crowns, and litter and soils beneath the crowns of two N-fixing and two non-N-fixing tree species that dominated the planting. Using the 15N natural abundance method, we found indications that fixed atmospheric N was utilized by the non-N-fixing trees, most likely through tight root connections or organic forms of N from the litter layer, rather than through the decomposition of N-fixers litter. While the two N-fixing tree species that were studied appeared to fix atmospheric N, they were substantially different in terms of C and N addition to the soil, as well as microbial community composition beneath them. This shows that the effect of N-fixing tree species on soil carbon sequestration is species-specific, cannot be generalized and requires planting trails to determine if there will be benefits to carbon sequestration. © 2014 Elsevier Ltd.

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Hoogmoed, M., Cunningham, S. C., Baker, P., Beringer, J., & Cavagnaro, T. R. (2014). N-fixing trees in restoration plantings: Effects on nitrogen supply and soil microbial communities. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 77, 203–212. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2014.06.008

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