• Latitudinal patterns of amino acid cycling and plant N uptake among North American forest ecosystems

      McFarland, Jack W.; Ruess, Roger; Boone, Richard; Chapin, Stuart F. III; Kielland, Knut; Hendrick, Ronald L. (2008-12)
      Interest in the role of organic nitrogen (N) to the N economy of forest ecosystems is gaining momentum as ecologists revise the traditional paradigm in N cycling to emphasize the importance of depolymerization of soil organic matter (SOM) in controlling the bioavailability of N in forest soils. Still, there has yet to be a coordinated effort aimed at developing general patterns for soil organic N cycling across ecosystems that vary in climate, SOM quality, plant taxa, or dominant mycorrhizal association: ectomycorrhizae (EM) vs. arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM). In this study, experimental additions of 13C15N-glycine and 15NH4+ were traced in situ through fine root and soil N pools for six North American forest ecosystems in an effort to define patterns of plant and microbial N utilization among divergent forest types. Recovery of 15N in extractable soil pools varied by N form, forest type, and sampling period. At all sites, immobilization by the soil microbial biomass represented the largest short-term (<24 h) biotic sink for NH4+ and amino acid-N, but differences in microbial turnover of the two N forms were linked to cross-ecosystem differences in SOM quality, particularly the availability of labile carbon (C). At the conclusion of the experiment, microbial N turnover had transferred the majority of immobilized 15N to non-extractable soil N pools. By comparison, fine root uptake of NH4+ and glycine-N was low (<10% total tracer recovery), but 15N enrichment of this pool was still increasing at the final sampling period. Since there was no significant loss of 15N tracer within the bulk soil after 14 days for any forest type except sugar maple, it suggests plants have the capacity to capitalize on multiple N turnover events and thus represent an important long-term sink for ecosystem N. Plants in all stands had some capacity to absorb glycine intact, but plant N preference again varied by forest type. Relative uptake of amino acid-N versus inorganic N was lowest in tulip poplar and highest in red pine and balsam poplar, while white oak, sugar maple, and white spruce stands were statistically near unity with respect to the two N forms. However, N uptake ratios were threefold higher in EM-dominated stands than in AM-dominated stands indicating mycorrhizal association in part mediated plant N preference. Thus, amino acids represent an important component of the N economies of a broad spectrum of forest ecosystems, but their relevance to plant nutrition likely varies as a function of microbial demand for C as well as N.