Increased rates of denitrification in nitrogen-treated forest soils

Mohn J. 1, Schürmann A. 1, Hagedorn F. 2, Schleppi P. 2, Bachofen R. 1

1 Institute of Plant Biology/Microbiology, University of Zürich, Zollikerstr. 107, CH-8008 Zürich, Switzerland
2 Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), Zürcherstr. 111, CH-8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland

For. Ecol. Manag. 137 (2000): 113-119

DOI: 10.1016/S0378-1127(99)00320-5


The effect of increased nitrogen deposition (30 kg N ha-1 per year as NH4NO3) on nitrogen losses by denitrification was studied in a Norway spruce (Picea abies) forest in Central Switzerland. Denitrification and potential controlling variables were measured on five replicate areas, treated with a solution of NH4NO3 (N-treated plots), or only moistened with rain water for comparison (control plots).
Maximum nitrogen loss by denitrification was observed with increasing soil temperature and soil pH and decreasing soil redox potential. The spatial variation of the denitrifying activity was driven by the micro-topography of the forest. On drained mounds with raw humus layers (redox potential: 659 ± 7 to 738 ± 3 mV) the rate of denitrification was low throughout the year. In waterlogged depressions (redox potential: 259 ± 15 to 515 ± 7 mV) the denitrifying activities were highest in spring and summer and reached up to 6.49 mg N m-2 per day. Stimulation of the denitrification rate by increasing temperature was most pronounced on the plots having a low redox potential.
Elevated N deposition increased the annual denitrification rate from 1.7 at ambient deposition to 2.9 kg N ha-1 per year (May 1996-October 1997). Increased denitrifying activity due to elevated N inputs occurred particularly after rainfall events with nitrogen additions and reached up to 13.58 mg N m-2 per day. This suggests that part of the N input is immediately denitrified and partly compensates the elevated nitrogen inputs.

Keywords: acetylene inhibition, denitrification, Gleysol, nitrogen deposition, redox potential, temperature