Plants control the seasonal dynamics of microbial N cycling in a beech forest soil by belowground C allocation
Soil microbes in temperate forest ecosystems are able to cycle several hundreds of kilograms of N per hectare per year and are therefore of paramount importance for N retention. Belowground C allocation by trees is an important driver of seasonal microbial dynamics and may thus directly affect N transformation processes over the course of the year. Our study aimed at unraveling plant controls on soil N cycling in a temperate beech forest at a high temporal resolution over a time period of two years, by investigating the effects of tree girdling on microbial N turnover. In both years of the experiment, we discovered (1) a summer N mineralization phase (between July and August) and (2) a winter N immobilization phase (November-February). The summer mineralization phase was characterized by a high N mineralization activity, low microbial N uptake, and a subsequent high N availability in the soil. During the autumn/winter N immobilization phase, gross N mineralization rates were low, and microbial N uptake exceeded microbial N mineralization, which led to high levels of N in the microbial biomass and low N availability in the soil. The observed immobilization phase during the winter may play a crucial role for ecosystem functioning, since it could protect dissolved N that is produced by autumn litter degradation from being lost from the ecosystem during the phase when plants are mostly inactive. The difference between microbial biomass N levels in winter and spring equals 38 kg N/ha and may thus account for almost one-third of the annual plant N demand. Tree girdling strongly affected annual N cycling: the winter N immobilization phase disappeared in girdled plots (microbial N uptake and microbial biomass N were significantly reduced, while the amount of available N in the soil solution was enhanced). This was correlated to a reduced fungal abundance in autumn in girdled plots. By releasing recently fixed photosynthates to the soil, plants may thus actively control the annual microbial N cycle. Tree belowground C allocation increases N accumulation in microorganisms during the winter which may ultimately feed back on plant N availability in the following growing season.
Source (journal)
Ecology / Ecological Society of America [Washington, D.C.] - Washington, DC, 1920, currens
Washington, DC : 2011
0012-9658 [print]
1939-9170 [online]
92:5(2011), p. 1036-1051
Publication type
External links
Web of Science
Creation 18.10.2018
Last edited 28.08.2021