Nitrogen cycling in a northern hardwood forest: Do species matter?

  • Lovett G
  • Weathers K
  • Arthur M
 et al. 
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To investigate the influence of individual tree species on nitrogen (N) cycling in forests, we measured key characteristics of the N cycle in small single-species plots of five dominant tree species in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The species studied were sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), eastern hemlock (Tsuga ca-nadensis), and red oak (Quercus rubra). The five species varied markedly in N cycling characteristics. For example, hemlock plots consistently showed characteristics associated with ЉslowЉ N cycling, in-cluding low foliar and litter N, high soil C:N, low extractable N pools, low rates of potential net N mineralization and nitrification and low NO 3 − amounts trapped in ion-exchange resin bags buried in the mineral soil. Sugar maple plots had the lowest soil C:N, and the highest levels of soil characteristics associated with NO 3 − production and loss (nitrification, extractable NO 3 − , and resin bag NO 3 −). In con-trast, red oak plots had near-average net mineralization rates and soil C:N ratios, but very low values of the variables associated with NO 3 − production and loss. Correlations between soil N transformations and litter concentrations of N, lignin, lignin:N ratio, or phenolic constituents were generally weak. The in-verse correlation between net nitrification rate and soil C:N that has been reported in the literature was present in this data set only if red oak plots were excluded from the analysis. This study indicates that tree species can exert a strong control on N cycling in forest ecosystems that appears to be mediated through the quality of soil organic matter, but that standard measures of litter quality cannot explain the mechanism of control.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Acer saccharum
  • Betula alleghaniensis
  • Fagus grandifolia
  • Quercus rubra
  • Tsuga canadensis

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  • Gary M. Lovett

  • Kathleen C. Weathers

  • Mary A. Arthur

  • Jack C. Schultz

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