The Effects of Long Term Nitrogen Fertilization on Soil Respiration in Rocky Mountain National Park
Abstract:Anthropogenic activities contribute to increased levels of nitrogen deposition and elevated CO2 concentrations in terrestrial ecosystems. The role that soils play in biogeochemical cycles is an important area of uncertainty in ecosystem ecology. One of the main reasons for this uncertainty is that we have limited understanding of belowground microbial activity and how this activity is linked to soil processes. In particular, elevated CO2 may influence soil nitrogen processes that regulate nitrogen availability to plants. Warming and nitrogen fertilization may both contribute to loss of stored carbon from mountain ecosystems, because they contribute to microbial decomposition of organic matter.
To study the effects of long-term nitrogen fertilization on soil respiration, we analyzed results from a 25-year field experiment in Rocky Mountain National Park. Field treatments are in old growth Engelmann spruce forests. Soil respiration responses to the effects of nitrogen fertilization on soil carbon cycling, via respiration, were investigated during the 2013 growing season. Soil moisture, temperature, and respiration rates were measured in six 30 x 30 m plots, of the six plots three are fertilized with 25 kg N ha-1 yr-1 as ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3) pellets and three receives ambient atmospheric nitrogen deposition (1-6 kg N/ha/yr) in Rocky Mountain National Park. We found that respirations rates in the fertilized plots were not significantly higher than respiration rates in the unfertilized plots. We speculate that acclimation to long-term fertilization and relatively high levels of nitrogen deposition in the control plots both contribute to the insensitivity of soil respiration to fertilization at this site.