Critical zone properties control the fate of nitrogen during experimental rainfall in montane forests of the Colorado Front Range

Biogeochemistry
By: , and 

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Abstract

Several decades of research in alpine ecosystems have demonstrated links among the critical zone, hydrologic response, and the fate of elevated atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition. Less research has occurred in mid-elevation forests, which may be important for retaining atmospheric N deposition. To explore the fate of N in the montane zone, we conducted plot-scale experimental rainfall events across a north–south transect within a catchment of the Boulder Creek Critical Zone Observatory. Rainfall events mimicked relatively common storms (20–50% annual exceedance probability) and were labeled with 15N-nitrate (NO3NO3−) and lithium bromide tracers. For 4 weeks, we measured soil–water and leachate concentrations of Br, 15NO3,15NO3−, and NO3NO3− daily, followed by recoveries of 15N species in bulk soils and microbial biomass. Tracers moved immediately into the subsurface of north-facing slope plots, exhibiting breakthrough at 10 and 30 cm over 22 days. Conversely, little transport of Br or 15NO315NO3− occurred in south-facing slope plots; tracers remained in soil or were lost via pathways not measured. Hillslope position was a significant determinant of soil 15N-NO3NO3− recoveries, while soil depth and time were significant determinants of 15N recovery in microbial biomass. Overall, 15N recovery in microbial biomass and leachate was greater in upper north-facing slope plots than lower north-facing (toeslope) and both south-facing slope plots in August; by October, 15N recovery in microbial N biomass within south-facing slope plots had increased substantially. Our results point to the importance of soil properties in controlling the fate of N in mid-elevation forests during the summer season.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Critical zone properties control the fate of nitrogen during experimental rainfall in montane forests of the Colorado Front Range
Series title Biogeochemistry
DOI 10.1007/s10533-017-0299-8
Volume 132
Issue 1
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) National Research Program - Central Branch
Description 19 p.
First page 213
Last page 231