Boreal mixedwood forests with varying proportions of coniferous and deciduous species are found throughout the North American continent. Maintenance of a deciduous component within boreal forests is currently favoured, as deciduous species are believed to promote faster nutrient turnover and higher nutrient availability. Results of comparisons of deciduous and coniferous forests are, however, inconsistent in supporting this generalization. We compared indices of soil nitrogen (N) availability in the forest floor and mineral soil of deciduous, mixed, and coniferous stands of boreal mixedwood forest in northwestern Alberta. Deciduous stands had higher N availability, reflected by higher pools of NH4-N and inorganic N in the forest floor. Forest floors of deciduous stands also tended to have higher concentrations of microbial N but did not have higher levels of NO3-N or higher rates of net nitrification. Mixed stands showed the highest rates of net N mineralization. Soil N availability was more closely related to litter N content than to litter decomposition rate. The variation among the forest types is likely attributable to vegetation, as topography is fairly uniform, stands do not differ in soil texture, and N-availability indices correlated directly with the proportion of deciduous trees. © 2006 NRC.
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