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Soil Nitrogen Pools Associated with Revegetation of Disturbed Sites in the Lake Tahoe Area


Address correspondence to V. P. Claassen, Soils and Biogeochemistry Section, Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, University of California, Davis, One Shields Avenue, Davis, CA 95616-8627, U.S.A. Tel.: 530-752-6514; Fax: 530-752-1552; E-mail:


Thin, poorly developed soils in the high elevation, summer-dry environment near Lake Tahoe, California are easily disturbed by anthropogenic impacts. Subsoils and parent materials that are exposed by vegetation removal and topsoil erosion or by burial during construction activities are difficult to revegetate and may continue to erode for decades after disturbance. The resulting sediment loads contribute to decreased water quality in local watersheds and to the loss of clarity in Lake Tahoe. Field observations suggest that soil disturbance often results in depletion of soil nitrogen (N) reserves and that the remaining substrates may be unable to provide adequate N for revegetation. To quantify the levels of soil N that are associated with higher levels of percent plant cover on previously disturbed soils in the Lake Tahoe area, a basin-wide survey and a second paired site study were conducted. Results indicate that extractable ammonium and nitrate levels correlate poorly with percent vegetative cover, whereas the correlations of anaerobically mineralizable N and total N are stronger and account for nearly 50% of the variability in plant cover data. Sites with plant cover measuring greater than 40% are associated with total soil N levels of about 1,200 kg N/ha and anaerobic mineralizable N levels of about 26 kg N/ha. Despite high concentrations of N in the surface soils, a large fraction of the N in the 0- to 50-cm profile occurs below 30 cm, when measured on a landscape basis.