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Patterns of DON and DOC Leaching Losses Across a Natural N Availability Gradient in Temperate Hardwood Forests

Scott, Emily E., Rothstein, David E.
Ecosystems 2017 v.20 no.7 pp. 1250-1265
dissolved organic carbon, dissolved organic nitrogen, forest ecosystems, forest litter, hardwood forests, landscapes, leachates, leaching, organic compounds, soil depth, soil solution, species diversity, trees
Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) is a potentially significant vector of N loss from forest ecosystems that has been characterized as an “N leak.” Although the term “leak” suggests a lack of regulation, it is clear DON losses are a function of biological and physicochemical processes that influence its production and retention across the landscape. In this study, we investigated how soil processes that influence DON cycling impact ecosystem patterns of DON loss in five northern hardwood forests that spanned a gradient of N availability, tree species composition, and moisture–edaphic characteristics. We collected soil leachate from the forest floor and at 15 and 100 cm soil depths and related solution chemistry to its physical environment. We found that DON losses were a function of ecosystem N status and increased modestly with soil N stock. We also found a unimodal pattern of DOC/DON losses across the gradient driven by low DOC/DON in the lowest N availability stand, likely due to the interaction between strongly sorbing DOM inputs from C-rich, oak-derived leaf litter with highly sorptive soils. We suggest DOM losses from forests depend on interactions between soil solution input chemistry from the forest floor, which reflects changes in tree species composition across the landscape, and soil sorptive processes where organic compounds are dynamically exchanged between solid and dissolved phases. These results emphasize the need to understand how fine-scale processes can interact to shape ecosystem patterns of DOM loss.