Cycling of fertiliser-derived N in a Sitka spruce ecosystem after 15N-urea application
Low recovery rates of fertiliser N in tree biomass are frequently reported due to the inefficiency of N fertilisers in afforested ecosystems. At Culloden (North East Scotland), only 13&'37 of 15N-urea fertiliser applied to Sitka spruce could be recovered in the above-ground tree biomass two years after fertilisation. Fertiliser N not taken up by trees was largely 'locked-up' in stable organic forms of N within the LFH layers of the soil profile. 15N-labelled litter was used in both field and microcosm experiments, the release and fate of litter-derived-N (LDN) being traced over the course of two growing seasons. In both experiments, the microbial biomass acted as a major sink for LDN. Measurement of soil microbial biomass was calibrated for Culloden soil samples by determination of a kEN-factor. Tree uptake of LDN, in the field, occurred within one month of labelled-litter application, with the foliage being the largest sink for LDN. Approximately 30&'37 of the N within the labelled-litter layer was taken up by the trees over the course of two growing seasons and was equivalent to 5.4 kg LDN ha-1 y-1. There was considerable mixing of the LFH and peat layers in Sitka spruce microcosm soil profiles. This was probably due to elevated soil animal population densities. After 18 months, approximately 83&'37 of LDN had been redistributed to other N pools in the microcosm. Uptake of LDN by seedlings accounted for 15.7&'37 of LDN after 12 months, the largest sink being the foliage, equivalent to 6.16 kg LDN ha-1 y-1. Again, the microbial biomass was a major sink for LDN. Measurement of availability (NH4+) N in Culloden soil samples incubated at different matric potentials and temperatures, appeared not to reflect N mineralisation rates. There was a strong interaction between temperature and soil matric potential, seedling uptake of N being greatest at 15oC and -16.0 kPa. The rate of turnover of the microbial biomass pool was identified as the key determinant of the rate of processing of LDN in forest soils.