- •Nitrogen (N) availability has a major impact on a wide range of biogeochemical processes in terrestrial ecosystems. Changes in N availability modify the capacity of plants to sequester carbon (C), but despite the crucial importance for our understanding of terrestrial ecosystems, the relative contribution of different N forms to plant N nutrition in the field is not known. Until now, reliably assessing the highly dynamic pool of plant-available N in soil microsites was virtually impossible, because of the lack of adequate sampling techniques.
- •For the first time we have applied a novel microdialysis technique for disturbance-free monitoring of diffusive fluxes of inorganic and organic N in 15 contrasting boreal forest soils in situ.
- •We found that amino acids accounted for 80% of the soil N supply, while ammonium and nitrate contributed only 10% each. In contrast to common soil extractions, microdialysis revealed that the majority of amino acids are available for plant and mycorrhizal uptake.
- •Our results suggest that the N supply of boreal forest soils is dominated by organic N as a major component of plant-available N and thus as a regulator of growth and C sequestration.