Different effects of canopy and understory nitrogen addition on soil organic carbon and its related processes in a subtropical forest

  • .
  • Published: 2020-09-11
  • 247

The response of forest soil organic carbon (SOC) to atmospheric nitrogen (N) deposition is generally studied via understory N addition, whereas canopy processes are often ignored. This implies potential bias in the response to N addition. Experiments incorporating both understory and canopy N addition in forests can explore the consistency of N addition approaches.

An experiment with canopy addition of 50 kg N ha1 year1, understory addition of 50 kg N ha1 year1, and blank control (0 kg N ha1 year1) was designed by researchers at South China Botanical Garden of Chinese Academy of Sciences in a subtropical evergreen broadleaved forest in China. After 5 years of N addition, elemental stoichiometry (C, N) and stable isotopes (13C and 15N) of the plants (litter, fine roots, leaves) and soil samples were determined. Researchers measured concentrations of total organic C and different fractions (microbial biomass, recalcitrant, readily oxidizable, and dissolved C), total N, nitrate and ammonium N, and soil acidity (pH) in surface soil samples (0–5 cm) in the forest. The changes in C, N concentrations, C/N ratios, and δ15N of litter and understory plant materials were different between the two N addition approaches. The contribution of litter C input and the mean residence time of soil organic C increased by 23% and decreased 1.8 years, respectively, due to understory N addition but was unaffected by canopy N addition. The concentrations of total organic C, microbial biomass C, and recalcitrant organic C were significantly different between the two approaches (lower microbial biomass C as a result of understory N addition than in control treatment). The significantly different C concentrations in macroaggregates and clay-silts, and the mean residence time between the approaches showed the different effects on the stability of soil organic C. The approach of canopy N addition is necessary to improve our understanding of the unbiased impact of atmospheric N deposition on soil organic C and its related processes, e.g., aboveground C input, SOC fractions, and soil stability in subtropical forests. Long-term experiments incorporating both understory and canopy N addition simulating atmospheric N deposition are required to further understand the influence of enhanced N deposition on forest soil processes.

This work was published in Journal of Soils and Sediments. PhD student LU Xiaofei at University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS)(institute: South China Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences) is the first author; Prof. KUANG Yuanwen at South China Botanical Garden of Chinese Academy of Sciences is the corresponding author, who is also a doctoral supervisor at UCAS.