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Low and high nitrogen deposition rates in northern coniferous forests have different impacts on aboveground litter production, soil respiration, and soil carbon stocks

PI: Benjamin Forsmark

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, 50 kg N ha-1 yr-1, n = 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 are 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.

carbon budgetnitrogen depositionsoil respiration