Disturbance and topography shape nitrogen availability and δ15 N over long-term forest succession

By: , and 



Forest disturbance and long-term succession towards old-growth are thought to increase nitrogen (N) availability and N loss, which should increase soil δ15N values. We examined soil and foliar patterns in N and δ15N, and soil N mineralization, across 800 years of forest succession in a topographically complex montane landscape influenced by human logging and wildfire. In contrast to expectations, we found that disturbance caused declines in surface mineral soil δ15N values, both in logged forests measured 40–50 years after disturbance, and in unlogged forests disturbed by severe wildfire within the last 200 years. Both symbiotic N fixation and N transfers from disturbed vegetation and detritus could lower soil δ15N values after disturbance. A more important role for symbiotic N fixation is suggested by lower soil δ15N values in slow-successional sites with slow canopy closure, which favors early-successional N fixers. Soil δ15N values increased only marginally throughout 800 years of succession, reflecting soil N uptake by vegetation and strong overall N retention. Although post-disturbance N inputs lowered surface soil δ15N values, steady-state mass balance calculations suggest that wildfire combustion of vegetation and detritus can dominate long-term N loss and increase whole-ecosystem δ15N. On steeper topography, declining soil δ15N values highlight erosion and accelerated soil turnover as an additional abiotic control on N balances. We conclude for N-limited montane forests that soil δ15N and N availability are less influenced by nitrate leaching and denitrification loss than by interactions between disturbance, N fixation, and erosion.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Disturbance and topography shape nitrogen availability and δ15 N over long-term forest succession
Series title Ecosystems
DOI 10.1007/s10021-015-9847-z
Volume 18
Issue 4
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Springer-Verlag
Publisher location New York, NY
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 16 p.
First page 573
Last page 588
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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