We asked whether nitrogen (N) deposition has altered Englemann spruce (Picea englemannii) biogeochemistry along the east side of the Colorado Front Range, USA. Twelve similar old-growth Englemann spruce stands were sampled, six with low (1-2 kg N ha-1 yr-1) and six with higher (3-5 kg N ha-1 yr-1) N deposition inputs. Species composition, elevation, aspect, parent material, site history and climate were matched as closely as possible across all sites. High N deposition sites had significantly lower organic horizon C:N and lignin:N ratios, and foliar lignin:N and C:N ratios, as well as greater %N and N:Mg ratios, and potential net mineralization rates. The relationship between organic horizon %N and potential net mineralization rates suggests a threshold of 1.2% N, above which mineralization increases linearly. Studies in the Northeastern US and Europe have found changes in forest biogeochemistry in response to nitrogen (N) deposition inputs between 3-60 kg N ha-1 yr-1. Our results suggest that current levels of N deposition (3-5 kg N ha-1 yr-1) along the Colorado Front Range may be altering Englemann spruce biogeochemistry. The results indicate even relatively low N inputs may cause measurable changes in forest biogeochemistry.
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Englemann spruce nitrogen dynamics across a nitrogen deposition gradient in Colorado, USA