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Journal Article

Variation in Foliar 15N Abundance and the Availability of Soil Nitrogen on Walker Branch Watershed

Charles T. Garten
Ecology
Vol. 74, No. 7 (Oct., 1993), pp. 2098-2113
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Ecological Society of America
DOI: 10.2307/1940855
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1940855
Page Count: 16
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Variation in Foliar 15N Abundance and the Availability of Soil Nitrogen on Walker Branch Watershed
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Abstract

Spatial patterns in natural ^1^5N abundance (δ^1^5N) in soil, soil solutions, and non-N"2-fixing plants were studied in the deciduous forest on Walker Branch Watershed near Oak Ridge, Tennessee. This study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that foliar δ^1^5N values are related to the availability of inorganic nitrogen in mineral soil. Soils collected in or near valley bottoms on the watershed had higher levels of net nitrogen mineralization and net nitrification potential than those sampled from ridges and slopes. More positive foliar δ^1^5N values occurred in valley bottoms, which, relative to other positions on the watershed, were characterized by greater availability of soil nitrogen and lower C-to-N ratios in the O"i-horizon, in the surface mineral soil, and in autumn leaf fall. Although leaf nitrogen concentrations changed significantly over the course of the growing season, there was little seasonal variation in foliar δ^1^5N values. A hypothesis about the relative importance of different sources of nitrogen to the forest and how nitrogen cycling varies with topography in this nitrogen-deficient ecosystem was derived, in part, from spatial patterns in natural ^1^5N abundance. There appear to be two processes affecting the topographic patterns in foliar ^1^5N abundance on this watershed: (1) greater uptake from isotopically heavy pools of inorganic soil nitrogen by plants in valley bottoms, and (2) uptake of isotopically light ammonium-N in atmospheric deposition by plants on ridges and slopes (where the availability of inorganic soil nitrogen to plant roots is more limited). Results from this study indicate that foliar δ^1^5N values are positively correlated with net nitrification potential in surface soil.

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