Carbon additions increase nitrogen availability in northern hardwood forest soils

Research paper by P. M. Groffman

Indexed on: 01 Aug '99Published on: 01 Aug '99Published in: Biology and Fertility of Soils


 The effects of acetate additions to northern hardwood forest soils on microbial biomass carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) content, soil inorganic N levels, respirable C and potential net N mineralization and nitrification were evaluated. The experiment was relevant to a potential watershed-scale calcium (Ca) addition that aims to replace Ca depleted by long-term exposure to acid rain. One option for this addition is to use calcium-magnesium (Mg) acetate, a compound that is inexpensive and much more readily soluble than the Ca carbonate that is generally used for large-scale liming. Field plots were treated with sodium (NA) acetate, Na bicarbonate or water (control) and were sampled (forest floor – Oe and Oa combined) 2, 10 and 58 days following application. It was expected that the addition of C would lead to an increase in biomass C and N and a decrease in inorganic N. Instead, we observed no effect on biomass C, a decline in biomass N and an increase in N availability. One possible explanation for our surprising results is that the C addition stimulated microbial activity but not growth. A second, and more likely, explanation for our results is that the C addition did stimulate microbial growth and activity, but there was no increase in microbial biomass due to predation of the new biomass by soil fauna. The results confirm the emerging realization that the effects of increases in the flow of C to soils, either by deliberate addition or from changes in atmospheric CO2, are more complex than would be expected from a simple C : N ratio analysis. Evaluations of large-scale manipulations of forest soils to ameliorate effects of atmospheric deposition or to dispose of wastes should consider microbial and faunal dynamics in considerable detail.