Fertilizer nitrogen transformations following urea application to an afforested ecosystem
Fertilizer nitrogen transformations in two Sitka spruce stands in northeast Scotland were studied using 15N-labelled (2.5 atom % 15N) urea at a rate equivalent to 160 kg N ha-1. The use of urea fertilizer resulted in accelerated growth of the tree crowns, and higher concentrations of total N in foliage, twigs and new wood. There was no fertilizer effect observed for bark. Despite a positive growth response by the trees to fertilizer N, only an estimated 17% of applied-N was utilized by the tree biomass. Application of urea-N resulted in a reduction in the leaching of inorganic N and certain cations (particularly Ca 2+). Gaseous losses of N were elevated following urea application, but estimated losses of fertilizer N via NH3 volatilization and denitrification were negligible. Data from both sites indicated a retention of volatilized NH3 in the tree canopy which was returned to the soil in throughfall. Urea application to the forest floor resulted in elevated pH of the LFH for a period of about 100 days. Urea application also led to a flush of acetic acid extractable PO4-P in the LFH. The addition of urea also resulted in increased counts of bacteria in the LFH. Data indicacted that elevated NO3- concentrations in the LFH may have been due to bacterial nitrification. Little effect of fertilizer N was observed for mineral soil, with a retention of the bulk of fertilizer N in the LFH.