Nitrogen cycling in a northern hardwood forest: Do species matter?

Gary M. Lovett, Kathleen C. Weathers, Mary A. Arthur, Jack C. Schultz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

365 Scopus citations


To investigate the influence of individual tree species on nitrogen (N) cycling in forests, we measured key characteristics of the N cycle in small single-species plots of five dominant tree species in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. The species studied were sugar maple (Acer saccharum), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), and red oak (Quercus rubra). The five species varied markedly in N cycling characteristics. For example, hemlock plots consistently showed characteristics associated with "slow" N cycling, including low foliar and litter N, high soil C:N, low extractable N pools, low rates of potential net N mineralization and nitrification and low NO 3- amounts trapped in ion-exchange resin bags buried in the mineral soil. Sugar maple plots had the lowest soil C:N, and the highest levels of soil characteristics associated with NO3- production and loss (nitrification, extractable NO3-, and resin bag NO3-). In contrast, red oak plots had near-average net mineralization rates and soil C:N ratios, but very low values of the variables associated with NO3- production and loss. Correlations between soil N transformations and litter concentrations of N, lignin, lignin:N ratio, or phenolic constituents were generally weak. The inverse correlation between net nitrification rate and soil C:N that has been reported in the literature was present in this data set only if red oak plots were excluded from the analysis. This study indicates that tree species can exert a strong control on N cycling in forest ecosystems that appears to be mediated through the quality of soil organic matter, but that standard measures of litter quality cannot explain the mechanism of control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-308
Number of pages20
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2004

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the US Department of Agriculture (grant NRICGP 96-35101-3126) the National Science Foundation (grant DEB 9981503), and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for financial support for this work. We are grateful to Chuck Schirmer, Greg Abernathy, Becky Brown, Jacob Griffin, the staff of the IES analytical laboratory, and other employees and students who helped with the sample collection and analysis. We thank Sharie Ketcho for help with the phenolic analyses, and the University of Kentucky’s Regulatory Services Soil Testing Laboratory for C and N analyses on plant and soil material. This is a publication of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station (No. 02-09-111) and a contribution to the program of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Acer saccharum
  • Betula alleghaniensis
  • Fagus grandifolia
  • Quercus rubra
  • Tsuga canadensis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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