Nitrification and nitrate reductase activity along a secondary successional gradient

Research paper by C. Barford, K. Lajtha

Indexed on: 01 Sep '92Published on: 01 Sep '92Published in: Plant and soil


The control of nitrification was studied in a secondary successional gradient on Nantucket Island, MA. It was hypothesized that 1) variability in nitrification along the gradient is controlled by litter primary and secondary chemistry, and 2) differences in nitrate availability along the gradient are reflected in potential nitrate assimilation rates in plant tissue. Nitrification varied significantly (p<0.05) by successional stage in all study sites, generally increasing with successional age. The ratio of nitrification to total N mineralization did not vary significantly between successional stages, suggesting substrate limitation of nitrification. Litter terpenoid resin concentration was a significant predictor (p<0.05) of nitrification rate, but soil %C, %N, and water content also contributed significantly to a stepwise regression model predicting nitrification. Nitrate reductase activity (NRA), an index of potential nitrate assimilation, was measured in an assay species (Schizachyrium scoparium). Although there was no significant correlation with nitrification, NRA was significantly (p<0.05) negatively correlated with soil ammonium concentration along the successional gradient at one site, suggesting that plants preferentially utilized ammonium in this system.