Review abstract

Nature Geoscience 3, 315 - 322 (2010)
Published online: 25 April 2010 | doi:10.1038/ngeo844

Subject Category: Biogeochemistry

Reduction of forest soil respiration in response to nitrogen deposition

I. A. Janssens1, W. Dieleman1, S. Luyssaert2, J-A. Subke3, M. Reichstein4, R. Ceulemans1, P. Ciais2, A. J. Dolman5, J. Grace6, G. Matteucci7, D. Papale8, S. L. Piao9, E-D. Schulze4, J. Tang10 & B.E. Law11

The use of fossil fuels and fertilizers has increased the amount of biologically reactive nitrogen in the atmosphere over the past century. As a consequence, forests in industrialized regions have experienced greater rates of nitrogen deposition in recent decades. This unintended fertilization has stimulated forest growth, but has also affected soil microbial activity, and thus the recycling of soil carbon and nutrients. A meta-analysis suggests that nitrogen deposition impedes organic matter decomposition, and thus stimulates carbon sequestration, in temperate forest soils where nitrogen is not limiting microbial growth. The concomitant reduction in soil carbon emissions is substantial, and equivalent in magnitude to the amount of carbon taken up by trees owing to nitrogen fertilization. As atmospheric nitrogen levels continue to rise, increased nitrogen deposition could spread to older, more weathered soils, as found in the tropics; however, soil carbon cycling in tropical forests cannot yet be assessed.

  1. Department of Biology, University of Antwerp, Universiteitsplein 1, B-2610 Wilrijk, Belgium
  2. LSCE CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, Orme des Merisiers, F-91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France
  3. Stockholm Environment Institute, Department of Biology, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK
  4. Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, PO Box 100164, D-07701 Jena, Germany
  5. Department of Earth Sciences, VU University Amsterdam, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  6. Institute of Atmospheric and Environmental Science, School of GeoSciences, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh EH9 3JN, Scotland, UK
  7. CNR-ISAFOM, Via Cavour 4-6, I-87036 Rende, Italy
  8. Department of Forest Environment and Resources, University of Tuscia, I-01100 Viterbo, Italy
  9. College of Urban and Environmental Sciences and KLESPME, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China
  10. The Ecosystems Center, Marine Biological Laboratory, 7 MBL Street, Woods Hole, Massachusetts 02543, USA
  11. College of Forestry, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-5752 USA.

Correspondence to: I. A. Janssens1 e-mail:


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