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Identification of coniferous forests with incipient nitrogen saturation through analysis of arginine and nitrogen-15 abundance of trees

, : Identification of coniferous forests with incipient nitrogen saturation through analysis of arginine and nitrogen-15 abundance of trees. Journal of Environmental Quality 26(1): 302-309

Stands of Norway spruce (Picea abies (L.) Karst.) differing in throughfall N deposition and NO-3- leaching were investigated to determine if arginine concentrations and delta-15N abundances of needles could be used to predict NO-3- leaching from stands. Twenty-three stands, all located in southern Sweden, were sampled and five of these had average NO-3- concentrations gt 0.1 mg NO-3-N L-1 in soil water at a 50-cm depth. Arginine concentrations and delta-15N abundances of needles were significantly higher for sites that exhibited NO-3- leaching. The delta-15N enrichment (epsilon), i.e., difference between foliage and soil organic matter in delta-15N, showed less variation than SIN of needles alone in regressions against NO-3- leaching and was, thus, a better predictor of leaching. All sites that exhibited N leaching had arginine concentrations gt 5 mu-mol g dw-1 and epsilon gt -0.5 (%) and thus, there was a strong correlation between arginine and epsilon values. To test if arginine accumulation, as such, can affect the delta-15N of needles, arginine and delta-15N were determined for Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.) trees given different amounts of N fertilizer. Although fertilization caused a dramatic increase in arginine concentrations of needles, no immediate change in delta-15N was observed. A hypothesis is proposed to explain the causal linkage between elevated arginine and delta-15N of needles and leaching of N. Thus, arginine accumulation in trees corresponds to decreased uptake rates of NH-4+ leaving NH-4+ ions available for nitrification. During nitrification, discrimination against the heavier 15N takes place resulting in a depleted NO-3- pool and enriched NH-4+ pool. Preferential uptake of NH-4+ by conifer trees will then lead to elevated 15N abundance of needles. It is concluded that N leaching coniferous forests can be identified through analysis of arginine and delta-15N of needles.

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