Articles | Volume 6, issue 12
01 Dec 2009
 | 01 Dec 2009

Patterns of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen fluxes in deciduous and coniferous forests under historic high nitrogen deposition

S. Sleutel, J. Vandenbruwane, A. De Schrijver, K. Wuyts, B. Moeskops, K. Verheyen, and S. De Neve

Abstract. Numerous recent studies have indicated that dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON) play an important role in C and N cycling in natural ecosystems, and have shown that N deposition alters the concentrations and fluxes of dissolved organic substances and may increase leaching losses from forests. Our study was set up to accurately quantify concentrations and flux patterns of DOC, DON and dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) in deciduous and coniferous forest in Flanders, Belgium, under historical high nitrogen deposition. We measured DOC, DON and DIN concentrations at two weekly intervals in a silver birch (SB) stand, a corsican pine (CP) stand and a pine stand with higher N deposition (CPN), and used the SWAP model (calibrated with PEST) for generating accurate water and matter fluxes. The input with precipitation was an important source of DON, but not for DOC. Release of DOC from the forest floor was minimally affected by forest type, but higher N deposition (CPN stand) caused an 82% increase of DOC release from the forest floor. Adsorption to mineral soil material rich in iron and/or aluminum oxyhydroxides was suggested to be the most important process removing DOC from the soil solution, responsible for substantial retention (67–84%) of DOC entering the mineral soil profile with forest floor leachate. Generally, DON was less reactive (i.e. less removal from the soil solution) than DOC, resulting in decreasing DOC/DON ratios with soil depth. We found increased DOC retention in the mineral soil as a result of higher N deposition (84 kg ha−1 yr−1 additional DOC retention in CPN compared to CP). Overall DON leaching losses were 2.2, 3.3 and 5.0 kg N yr−1 for SB, CP and CPN, respectively, contributing between 9–28% to total dissolved N (TDN) leaching. The relative contribution to TDN leaching from DON loss from SB and CP was mainly determined by (large) differences in DIN leaching. The large TDN leaching losses are alarming, especially in the CPN stand that was N saturated.

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