Nitrogen (N) limits productivity in many coniferous forests of the western US, but the influence of post-fire structure on N cycling rates in early successional stands is not well understood. We asked if the heterogeneity created by downed wood and regenerating pine saplings affected N mineralization and microbial community composition in 15-yr old lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) stands established after the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, USA). In three 0.25-ha plots, we measured annual in situ net N mineralization in mineral soil using resin cores (n = 100 per plot) under pine saplings, downed wood (legacy logs that survived the fire, and fire-killed trees that had fallen and were contacting or elevated above the ground), and in bare mineral soil. Annual in situ net N mineralization and net nitrification rates were both greater in bare mineral soil (8.4 ± 0.6 and 3.6 ± 0.3 mg N kgsoil-1 yr-1, respectively) than under pine saplings, contact logs, or elevated logs (ca. 3.9 ± 0.5 and 0.8 ± 0.1 mg N kgsoil-1 yr-1, respectively). Net nitrification was positively related to net N mineralization under all treatments except for elevated logs. In laboratory incubations using 15N pool dilution, NH4+ consumption exceeded gross production by a factor of two in all treatments, but consumption and gross production were similar among treatments. Contrary to our initial hypothesis, microbial community composition also did not vary among treatments. Thus, two- to three-fold differences in in situ net N mineralization rates occurred despite the similarity in microbial communities and laboratory measures of gross production and consumption of NH4+ among treatments. These results suggest the importance of microclimate on in situ annual soil N transformations, and differences among sites suggest that broader scale landscape conditions may also be important.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law