Soil-Nitrogen Transformations and Nitrate Utilization by Deschampsia-Flexuosa (L) Trin at 2 Contrasting Heathland Sites

S.R. Troelstra, R. Wagenaar, W. Smant, W. De Boer

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    Two Dutch heathland sites Hoorneboeg (HB) and Ede, dominated by Deschampsia flexuosa and differing in nitrate production, were sampled for an entire growing season. A large number of soil and plant parameters were monitored in an attempt to assess the contribution of nitrate in the N supply and its assimilation by Deschampsia. Average NO3- and NH4+ concentrations (mg kg(-1)) in the top 10-cm depth were 0.03 and 2.2, respectively, for HB, and 2.1 and 6.7, respectively, for Ede. Laboratory incubations of intact cores and experiments with FH-layer suspensions showed significantly higher mineralization and nitrification rates for the Ede site during most of the season. Nitrification was largely controlled by the rate of net N-mineralization, which in turn was highly affected by soil moisture. Nitrate production was virtually zero at HB and accounted for 25% of the net N-mineralization at Ede. Shoot chemical composition showed no essential differences for the two sites, but mean in vivo (current) foliar NRA was almost 2-fold higher at Ede than at HB, indicating some utilization of nitrate at the former location. At the HB site with essentially no nitrate production, however, enzyme activities were clearly higher than 'basal' constitutive levels in NH4+-fed plants. Apparently, shoot NRA at the HB site became positively affected by factors other than nitrate availability and/or showed disproportional increases in response to atmospheric nitrate inputs. Root NRA displayed the same low basal level at the two sites. Nitrate fertilization (100 kg N ha(-1)) yielded maximally induced foliar NRAs similar to levels found in hydroponic nitrate plants. Although no accumulation of free NO3- was observed in shoots from fertilized plots, increases in foliar concentrations of both organic N and carboxylates clearly indicated nitrate assimilation. Root NRA showed no response to nitrate addition. It is concluded that current NRA measurements in Deschampsia at heathland sites are of limited value only, especially when interpreted 'in isolation'. A combined approach, using concurrently conducted soil and plant analyses, will allow the extent of nitrate utilization in the field to be best characterized. [KEYWORDS: Acidic soils; ammonium; deschampsia flexuosa (l.) trin.; nitrate; nitrification; n-mineralization; nra; seasonal variation Microbial biomass; reductase-activity; extraction method; vascular plants; forest soils; nitrification; growth; availability; assimilation; dynamics]
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)81-93
    JournalPlant and Soil
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 1995


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