The phosphorus status of northern hardwoods differs by species but is unaffected by nitrogen fertilization

Matthew P. Weand, Mary A. Arthur, Gary M. Lovett, Frank Sikora, Kathleen C. Weathers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Northern hardwood forests in the eastern US exhibit species-specific influences on nitrogen (N) cycling, suggesting that their phosphorus (P) cycling characteristics may also vary by species. These characteristics are increasingly important to understand in light of evidence suggesting that atmospheric N deposition has increased N availability in the region, potentially leading to phosphorus limitation. We examined how P characteristics differ among tree species and whether these characteristics respond to simulated N deposition (fertilization). We added NH4NO3 fertilizer (50 kg ha-1 year-1) to single-species plots of red oak (Quercus rubra L.), sugar maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.), eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis (L.) Carr.), American beech (Fagus grandifolia Ehrh.), and yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis Britt.), in the Catskill Mountains, New York from 1997 to 2007. Species differences were observed in foliar, litter and root P concentrations, but all were unaffected by a cumulative N fertilization of 550 kg/ha. Similarly, measures of soil P availability and biotic P sufficiency differed by species but were unaffected by N fertilization. Results suggest species exhibit unique relationships to P as well as N cycles. We found little evidence that N fertilization leads to increased P limitation in these northern hardwood forests. However, species such as sugar maple and red oak may be sufficient in P, whereas beech and hemlock may be less sufficient and therefore potentially more sensitive to future N-stimulated P limitation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)159-181
Number of pages23
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2010

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments We thank the National Science Foundation (grants DEB 9981503 and DEB 0444895) for financial support for this work. We are grateful to Chris Barton, Noah Beck, Margaret Carreiro, Jim Crutchfield, Ivan Fernandez, Stuart Findlay, David Fischer, Jake Griffin, Millie Hamilton, Amy Herberg, Rob Keefe, Brent Mellen, Jen Peters, Rachel Ruppel, Maggie Ward, and other employees and students at the Cary Institute and the University of Kentucky who helped with the sample collection and analysis. We thank the University of Kentucky’s Regulatory Services Soil Testing Laboratory for P analyses on plant and soil material. This is a publication of the Kentucky Agricultural Experiment Station (09-09-016) and a contribution to the program of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.


  • Catskill Mountains
  • Nitrogen
  • Nutrient limitation
  • Temperate forest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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