Input and output of dissolved organic and inorganic nitrogen in subtropical forests of South China under high air pollution


The nitrogen (N) emissions to the atmosphere and N deposition to forest ecosystems are increasing rapidly in Southeast Asia, but little is known about the fates and effects of elevated N deposition in forest ecosystems in this warm and humid region. Here we report the concentrations and fluxes of dissolved inorganic (DIN) and organic N (DON) in precipitation, throughfall, surface runoff and soil solution for three subtropical forests in a region of South China under high air pollution over two years (2004 and 2005), to investigate how deposited N is processed, and to examine the importance of DON in the N budget. The precipitation DIN input was 32–34 kg N ha<sup>−1</sup> yr<sup>−1</sup>. An additional input of 18 kg N ha<sup>−1</sup> yr<sup>−1</sup> as DON was measured in 2005, which to our knowledge is the highest DON flux ever measured in precipitation. A canopy uptake of DIN was indicated in two young conifer dominated forests (72–85% of DIN input reached the floor in throughfall), whereas no uptake occurred in an old-growth broadleaf forest. The DON fluxes in throughfall were similar to that in precipitation in all forests. In the younger forests, DIN was further retained in the soil, with 41–63% of precipitation DIN leached below the 20-cm soil depth. Additionally, about half of the DON input was retained in these forests. The N retention in two young aggrading forests (21–28 kg N ha<sup>−1</sup> yr<sup>−1</sup>) was in accordance with the estimates of N accumulation in biomass and litter accretion. In the old-growth forest, no N retention occurred, but rather a net loss of 8–16 kg N ha<sup>−1</sup> yr<sup>−1</sup> from the soil was estimated. In total up to 60 kg N ha<sup>−1</sup> yr<sup>−1</sup> was leached from the old-growth forest, indicating that this forest was completely N saturated and could not retain additional anthropogenic N inputs. We found that the majority of DIN deposition as well as of DIN leaching occurred in the rainy season (March to August) and that monthly DIN concentrations and fluxes in leaching were positively related to those in throughfall in all three forests, implying that part of the N leaching was hydrologically driven. Our results suggest that long-term high N deposition has caused elevated N leaching in all three forest types although most pronounced in the old-growth forest where wood increment was negligible or even negative. N availability even exceeded the biotic N demand in the young aggrading forests, with intensive rain in the growing season further enhancing N leaching in these forests

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This paper was published in Directory of Open Access Journals.

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