Article | Published:

Mechanisms for retention of bioavailable nitrogen in volcanic rainforest soils

Nature Geoscience volume 1, pages 543548 (2008) | Download Citation

Abstract

Nitrogen cycling is an important aspect of forest ecosystem functioning. Pristine temperate rainforests have been shown to produce large amounts of bioavailable nitrogen, but despite high nitrogen turnover rates, loss of bioavailable nitrogen is minimal in these ecosystems. This tight nitrogen coupling is achieved through fierce competition for bioavailable nitrogen by abiotic processes, soil microbes and plant roots, all of which transfer bioavailable nitrogen to stable nitrogen sinks, such as soil organic matter and above-ground forest vegetation. Here, we use a combination of in situ 15N isotope dilution and 15N tracer techniques in volcanic soils of a temperate evergreen rainforest in southern Chile to further unravel retention mechanisms for bioavailable nitrogen. We find three processes that contribute significantly to nitrogen bioavailability in rainforest soils: heterotrophic nitrate production, nitrate turnover into ammonium and into a pool of dissolved organic nitrogen that is not prone to leaching loss, and finally, the decoupling of dissolved inorganic nitrogen turnover and leaching losses of dissolved organic nitrogen. Identification of these biogeochemical processes helps explain the retention of bioavailable nitrogen in pristine temperate rainforests.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the Fund for Scientific Research - Flanders (Belgium) (FWO, G.0426.04) and a Bilateral Scientific and Technological Cooperation between Flanders and Chile (BOF, UGent). R.G. would like to thank the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research - Chile (FONDECYT). Support during field campaigns was provided by Y. Rivas, G. Guevara, P. Etcheverría, Y. Ugarte, E. Padilla, L. Almonacid and J. Peters. We are grateful to the CONAF, especially to N. Pacheco, for supporting our research. We acknowledge E. Gillis, K. Van Nieuland and J. Vermeulen for isotope analyses.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Instituto de Ingeniería Agraria y Suelos, Universidad Austral de Chile, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile

    • Dries Huygens
  2. Laboratory of Applied Physical Chemistry (ISOFYS), Ghent University, Coupure 653, B-9000 Gent, Belgium

    • Dries Huygens
    • , Pascal Boeckx
    •  & Oswald Van Cleemput
  3. Department of Biology, Boston University, 5 Cummington Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, USA

    • Pamela Templer
  4. Departamento de Suelos y Recursos Naturales, Universidad de Concepción, Casilla 537, Chillán, Chile

    • Leandro Paulino
  5. Instituto de Geociencias, Universidad Austral de Chile, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile

    • Carlos Oyarzún
  6. School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland

    • Christoph Müller
  7. Instituto de Botánica, Universidad Austral de Chile, Casilla 567, Valdivia, Chile

    • Roberto Godoy

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Contributions

All authors worked out the study aims, discussed the results and edited/commented on the manuscript; D.H., P.B., L.P., C.O. and R.G. participated in field sampling campaigns; D.H., P.B. and P.T. prepared experimental set-up and scientific protocols. D.H. wrote the manuscript, analysed water samples and carried out data analysis; D.H., P.B. and R.G. supervised the project; P.T. provided expertise on 15N field work and techniques during a scientific exchange programme of D.H.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dries Huygens.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo252

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