Nitrogen-bedrock interactions regulate multi-element nutrient limitation and sustainability in forests

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Nutrient limitation of tree growth can intensify when nutrients are lost to forest harvest, creating challenges for forest growth and sustainability. Forest harvest accelerates nutrient loss by removing nutrient-containing biomass and by increasing nutrient leaching, shaping patterns of nutrient depletion that cause long-term shifts in nutrient limitation. Nitrogen most frequently limits tree growth, but where nitrogen is abundant, nutrient limitation often shifts to phosphorus and base cations, depending on soil mineralogy. We used the process-based biogeochemical model NutsFor to evaluate how multiple elements can limit long-term forest growth via interactions between soil nitrogen (low vs. high nitrogen) and soil mineralogy (sedimentary vs. basaltic bedrock). Simulations were run for 525 years with 40-year harvest intervals for managed Douglas-fir forests of the Oregon Coast Range. In low nitrogen sites, nutrient limitation switched after several centuries from nitrogen to phosphorus, as cycles of forest growth and harvest depleted soil organic phosphorus pools. In contrast, high nitrogen sites displayed severe base cation depletion and reduced tree growth within only one to two rotations, with sedimentary bedrock sites limited by calcium and basaltic sites by both calcium and potassium. Harvesting stimulated the largest fractional losses of nitrogen and potassium across all simulations, and additionally of calcium in high nitrogen sites. These multi-element simulations of interactions among harvesting, soil nitrogen, and bedrock type provide a set of testable predictions to guide monitoring and changes in management aimed at sustaining long-term forest productivity across a wide range of soil biogeochemical conditions.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Nitrogen-bedrock interactions regulate multi-element nutrient limitation and sustainability in forests
Series title Biogeochemistry
DOI 10.1007/s10533-023-01039-6
Volume 164
Year Published 2023
Language English
Publisher Springer
Contributing office(s) Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center
Description 25 p.
First page 389
Last page 413
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