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Nitrogen addition alters mineralization dynamics of 13C-depleted leaf and twig litter and reduces leaching of older DOC from mineral soil


Correspondence: Frank Hagedorn, tel. +41 44 739 23 91, fax +41 44 739 22 15, e-mail:


Recent reviews indicate that N deposition increases soil organic matter (SOM) storage in forests but the undelying processes are poorly understood. Our aim was to quantify the impacts of increased N inputs on soil C fluxes such as C mineralization and leaching of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) from different litter materials and native SOM. We added 5.5 g N m−2 yr−1 as NH4NO3 over 1 year to two beech forest stands on calcareous soils in the Swiss Jura. We replaced the native litter layer with 13C-depleted twigs and leaves (δ13C: −38.4 and −40.8‰) in late fall and measured N effects on litter- and SOM-derived C fluxes. Nitrogen addition did not significantly affect annual C losses through mineralization, but altered the temporal dynamics in litter mineralization: increased N inputs stimulated initial mineralization during winter (leaves: +25%; twigs: +22%), but suppressed rates in the subsequent summer. The switch from a positive to a negative response occurred earlier and more strongly for leaves than for twigs (−21% vs. 0%). Nitrogen addition did not influence microbial respiration from the nonlabeled calcareous mineral soil below the litter which contrasts with recent meta-analysis primarily based on acidic soils. Leaching of DOC from the litter layer was not affected by NH4NO3 additions, but DOC fluxes from the mineral soils at 5 and 10 cm depth were significantly reduced by 17%. The 13C tracking indicated that litter-derived C contributed less than 15% of the DOC flux from the mineral soil, with N additions not affecting this fraction. Hence, the suppressed DOC fluxes from the mineral soil at higher N inputs can be attributed to reduced mobilization of nonlitter derived ‘older’ DOC. We relate this decline to an altered solute chemistry by NH4NO3 additions, an increased ionic strength and acidification resulting from nitrification, rather than to a change in microbial decomposition.