Nutrient fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems are governed by complex biological and physical interactions. Ecologists mechanistic understanding of these interactions has focused on biological controls including plant uptake and microbial processing. However, ecologists and hydrologists have recently demonstrated that physical controls are also important. Here, we show that within-site spatial variation in soil solution N concentrations is a function of soil clay content across a globally diverse array of field sites. Clay content explained 35 and 53% of the coefficient of variation (CV) in soil solution nitrate (NO3-) and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), respectively. The CV of soil hydraulic conductivity is a similar function of clay content, suggesting that soil hydrology may be a significant mechanism affecting variation in soil solution N. Although vegetation physiognomy and soil C/N ratios are known to affect soil solution N concentrations, neither was significantly related to within-site spatial variation in NO3- or DON. However, the spatial variation of NO3- and DON was greater in younger forests than in paired older forests. Our data show that the heterogeneity of an important resource, soil solution N, is a predictable function of clay content. Resource heterogeneity, such as that described here for soil solution N, can affect population, community, and ecosystem processes.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Environmental Chemistry