• Forest;
  • microbial and plant processes;
  • nitrogen saturation;
  • nitrogen turnover


Long-term nitrogen deposition into forest ecosystems has turned many forests in Central Europe and North America from N-limited to N-saturated systems, with consequences for climate as well as air and groundwater quality. However, complete quantification of processes that convert the N deposited and contributed to ecosystem N cycling is scarce. In this study, we provide the first complete quantification of external and internal N fluxes in an old-growth spruce forest, the Höglwald, Bavaria, Germany, exposed to high chronic N deposition. In this forest, N cycling is dominated by high rates of mineralisation of soil organic matter, nitrification and immobilisation of ammonium and nitrate into microbial biomass. The amount of ammonium available is sufficient to cover the entire N demand of the spruce trees. The data demonstrate the existence of a highly dynamic internal N cycle within the soil, driven by growth and death of the microbial biomass, which turns over approximately seven times each year. Although input and output fluxes are of high environmental significance, they are low compared to the internal fluxes mediated by microbial activity.