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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2020

Low and High Nitrogen Deposition Rates in Northern Coniferous Forests Have Different Impacts on Aboveground Litter Production, Soil Respiration, and Soil Carbon Stocks

Forsmark, Benjamin; Nordin, Annika; Maaroufi, Nadia; Lundmark, Tomas; Gundale, Michael


Nitrogen (N) deposition can change the carbon (C) sink of northern coniferous forests by changing the balance between net primary production and soil respiration. We used a field experiment in an N poor Pinus sylvestris forest where five levels of N (0, 3, 6, 12, and 50 kg N ha−1 yr−1n = 6) had been added annually for 12–13 years to investigate how litter C inputs and soil respiration, divided into its autotrophic and heterotrophic sources, respond to different rates of N input, and its subsequent effect on soil C storage. The highest N addition rate (50 kg N ha−1 yr−1) stimulated soil C accumulation in the organic layer by 22.3 kg C kg−1 N added, increased litter inputs by 46%, and decreased soil respiration per mass unit of soil C by 31.2%, mainly by decreasing autotrophic respiration. Lower N addition rates (≤ 12 kg N ha−1 yr−1) had no effect on litter inputs or soil respiration. These results support previous studies reporting on increased litter inputs coupled to impeded soil C mineralization, contributing to enhancing the soil C sink when N is supplied at high rates, but add observations for lower N addition rates more realistic for N deposition. In doing so, we show that litter production in N poor northern coniferous forests can be relatively unresponsive to low N deposition levels, that stimulation of microbial activity at low N additions is unlikely to reduce the soil C sink, and that high levels of N deposition enhance the soil C sink by increasing litter inputs and decreasing soil respiration.


autotrophic respiration; boreal forest; carbon budget; carbon sequestration; heterotrophic respiration; nitrogen deposition; soil carbon poolsand fluxes; soil respiration

Published in

2020, Volume: 23, number: 7, pages: 1423-1436