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Seasonal variations and effects of nutrient applications on N and P and microbial biomass under two temperate heathland plants

Nielsen, Pia L., Andresen, Louise C., Michelsen, Anders, Schmidt, Inger K., Kongstad, Jane
Applied soil ecology 2009 v.42 no.3 pp. 279-287
Calluna vulgaris, Deschampsia flexuosa, shrublands, wild plants, seasonal variation, nitrogen, phosphorus, soil microorganisms, dry matter content, spatial variation, soil amendments, soil fertility, nutrient availability, nitrification, ammonification, soil organic carbon, species differences, root exudates, field experimentation, Denmark
Eutrofication is a threat against nutrient-poor habitats as increased amounts of nutrients in ecosystems may cause changes in the vegetation. Nitrogen (N) deposition leads to conversion of Calluna heathlands into graminoid dominated heath, but low availability of P may hinder or slow down this process. In this study the soil properties under two dominant heathland plants, the dwarf shrub Calluna vulgaris and the grass Deschampsia flexuosa, were investigated, with focus on nutrient content in the organic top soil and soil microbes during the main growing season and effects of nutrient amendments. The concentration of inorganic and dissolved organic N was significantly higher under D. flexuosa than C. vulgaris all though there were the same amounts of total N in the soil below the two species. N and P amendment enhanced available N and P in the soil, but added nutrients had little direct effects on microbes. The microbial biomass on the other hand was positively related to soil water content in fertilized plots indicating that this was due to an indirect effect of enhanced nutrient availability. Microbial N and P pools were respectively 1000 and 100 times higher than the pool of inorganic N and P, and microbes therefore may play an important role in regulating plant nutrient supply. Judged from responses of inorganic and microbial N and P concentrations to added N and P, N seemed to limit C. vulgaris and soil microbes below while P seemed to limit D. flexuosa and soil microbes below this species. There were lower rates of net nitrification, net ammonification and DOC and DON production rates during winter in the soil under C. vulgaris than below D. flexuosa, although all these rates were equal under the two species on an annual basis. This indicates that these microbial processes were taking place during winter but were affected by exudates from C. vulgaris.