- Role of Dissolved Organic Nitrogen in the Soil Nitrogen Cycle of Forest Ecosystems (2010)
- In the last years, dissolved organic N (DON) has been shown to be a crucial part of the soil N cycle in forest ecosystems. Despite this, information on its dynamics, sources and fate is still lacking. Especially data from (sub)tropical forest ecosystems are scarce. Therefore, this study investigated (i) the magnitude and drivers of DON fluxes in a subtropical montane forest, (ii) the biodegradability of DON from forest floors, (iii) the abiotic formation mechanism for DON in forest floors as postulated by the Ferrous Wheel Hypothesis and (iv) the link between DON and dissolved organic C (DOC) dynamics. In a field study (2005-2008), average DON fluxes in forest floor percolates and seepage (60 cm) of a subtropical montainous cypress forest (16 and 8 kg N ha-1 yr-1, respectively) were similar to fluxes in other (sub)tropical ecosystems, and dominated total N fluxes. Dissolved organic N concentrations in the soil were independent of the water flux (meaning that no dilution effect was visible). This implies that first, the pool size of potentially soluble DON is variable and second, that this pool is hard to deplete. In contrast, the linear relationship between soil organic solute and water fluxes was positive, showing that precipitation is an important driver for DON losses in this ecosystem. Although this has also been reported from temperate ecosystems, this relationship did not hold when analyzing the combined data from various (sub)tropical and temperate forest ecosystems. The biodegradability of DON was highest in inoculated spruce-Oi water extracts in a 21-day incubation experiment, while in extracts from beech-Oi and Oa horizons, DON concentrations only slightly decreased. Dissolved organic N was recalcitrant in spruce-Oa and cypress-Oa extracts, indicating that this DON could add to the formation of stable soil N pools. As various additions of NO3- never influenced DON biodegradation, it is concluded that microbes do not necessarily prefer mineral N over DON as substrate. Mineralization was always more important than microbial uptake in samples without NO3- additions, and denitrification only played a minor role in spruce-Oi samples (as indicated by a negative balance of all N species after 21 days). Fluorescence excitation-emission spectroscopy and subsequent parallel factor analysis identified four groups of fluorophores in the extracts. The initial concentration of two of these so-called factors was correlated with DON biodegradation, but protein-like fluorescence (which has been suggested as a proxy for dissolved organic matter biodegradation) was shown to be independent of DON biodegradation due to similar excitation-emission-maxima of recalcitrant compounds. Therefore, these factors might not always be suitable to predict DON biodegradation. The abiotic reaction of NO2- with DOC (as postulated by the last step of the Ferrous Wheel Hypothesis) was tested in a second incubation experiment in extracts with varying DOC concentrations and qualities and NO2- additions under oxic conditions. Concentrations of added NO2- never decreased within 60 min, indicating, that no DON formation from added NO2- took place. The results show, that the last step of the Ferrous Wheel Hypothesis (which has been suggested to be fast) is unlikely to occur in forest floors. Dissolved organic N and C fluxes were both highly dependent on precipitation at the cypress site, suggesting a strong link between these two classes of compounds. This assumption was supported by the first incubation experiment, where both DON and DOC biodegradation were not influenced by NO3- additions. Moreover, DOC dynamics closely resembled DON dynamics, which suggests that DON biodegradation could be driven by microbial C demand. Therefore, the often used separation of DON and DOC into functionally different compound classes is not always warranted. In conclusion, this study emphasized the need to include DON in biogeochemical N studies of both temperate and (sub)tropical ecosystems, and provided new and important insights regarding DON biodegradation, possible DON sources in forest floors and the link between DON and DOC dynamics in forest ecosystems.