Isotope ratios and concentrations of sulfur and nitrogen in needles and soils of Picea abies stands as influenced by atmospheric deposition of sulfur and nitrogen compounds

Research paper by G. Gebauer, A. Giesemann, E. -D. Schulze, H. -J. Jäger

Indexed on: 01 Jul '94Published on: 01 Jul '94Published in: Plant and soil


Concentrations and natural isotope abundance of total sulfur and nitrogen as well as sulfate and nitrate concentrations were measured in needles of different age classes and in soil samples of different horizons from a healthy and a declining Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) forest in the Fichtelgebirge (NE Bavaria, Germany), in order to study the fate of atmospheric depositions of sulfur and nitrogen compounds.The mean δ15N of the needles ranged between −3.7 and −2.1 ‰ and for δ34S a range between −0.4 and +0.9 ‰ was observed. δ34S and sulfur concentrations in the needles of both stands increased continuously with needle age and thus, were closely correlated. The δ15N values of the needles showed an initial decrease followed by an increase with needle age. The healthy stand showed more negative δ15N values in old needles than the declining stand. Nitrogen concentrations decreased with needle age.For soil samples at both sites the mean δ15N and δ34S values increased from −3 ‰ (δ15N) or +0.9 ‰ (δ34S) in the uppermost organic layer to about +4 ‰ (δ15N) or +4.5 ‰ (δ34S) in the mineral soil. This depth-dependent increase in abundance of 15N and 34S was accompanied by a decrease in total nitrogen and sulfur concentrations in the soil. δ15N values and nitrogen concentrations were closely correlated (slope −0.0061 ‰ δ15N per μmol eq N gdw−1), and δ34S values were linearly correlated with sulfur concentrations (slope −0.0576 ‰ δ34S per μmol eq S gdw−1). It follows that in the same soil samples sulfur concentrations were linearly correlated with the nitrogen concentrations (slope 0.0527), and δ34S values were linearly correlated with δ15N values (slope 0.459). A correlation of the sulfur and nitrogen isotope abundances on a Δ basis (which considers the different relative frequencies of 15N and 34S), however, revealed an isotope fractionation that was higher by a factor of 5 for sulfur than for nitrogen (slope 5.292). These correlations indicate a long term synchronous mineralization of organic nitrogen and sulfur compounds in the soil accompanied by element-specific isotope fractionations.Based on different sulfur isotope abundance of the soil (δ34S=0.9 ‰ for total sulfur of the organic layer was assumed to be equivalent to about −1.0 ‰ for soil sulfate) and of the atmospheric SO2 deposition (δ34S=2.0 ‰ at the healthy site and 2.3 ‰ at the declining site) the contribution of atmospheric SO2 to total sulfur of the needles was estimated. This contribution increased from about 20 % in current-year needles to more than 50 % in 3-year-old needles. The proportion of sulfur from atmospheric deposition was equivalent to the age dependent sulfate accumulation in the needles. In contrast to the accumulation of atmospheric sulfur compounds nitrogen compounds from atmospheric deposition were metabolized and were used for growth. The implications of both responses to atmospheric deposition are discussed.