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Keywords:

  • amino acids;
  • organic N cycling;
  • proteolytic enzymes;
  • temperate forests

[1] Increasing soil temperature has the potential to alter the activity of the extracellular enzymes that mobilize nitrogen (N) from soil organic matter (SOM) and ultimately the availability of N for primary production. Proteolytic enzymes depolymerize N from proteinaceous components of SOM into amino acids, and their activity is a principal driver of the within-system cycle of soil N. The objectives of this study were to investigate whether the soils of temperate forest tree species differ in the temperature sensitivity of proteolytic enzyme activity over the growing season and the role of substrate limitation in regulating temperature sensitivity. Across species and sampling dates, proteolytic enzyme activity had relatively low sensitivity to temperature with a mean activation energy (Ea) of 33.5 kJ mol−1. Ea declined in white ash, American beech, and eastern hemlock soils across the growing season as soils warmed. By contrast, Eain sugar maple soil increased across the growing season. We used these data to develop a species-specific empirical model of proteolytic enzyme activity for the 2009 calendar year and studied the interactive effects of soil temperature (ambient or +5°C) and substrate limitation (ambient or elevated protein) on enzyme activity. Declines in substrate limitation had a larger single-factor effect on proteolytic enzyme activity than temperature, particularly in the spring. There was, however, a large synergistic effect of increasing temperature and substrate supply on proteolytic enzyme activity. Our results suggest limited increases in N availability with climate warming unless there is a parallel increase in the availability of protein substrates.