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Feast not famine: Nitrogen pools recover rapidly in 25‐yr‐old postfire lodgepole pine

Author(s): Monica G. Turner, Timothy G. Whitby, William H. Romme
Year Published: 2019

The extent of young postfire conifer forests is growing throughout western North America as the frequency and size of high‐severity fires increase, making it important to understand ecosystem structure and function in early seral forests. Understanding nitrogen (N) dynamics during postfire stand development is especially important because northern conifers are often N limited. We resampled lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia) stands that regenerated naturally after the 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, USA) to ask (1) How have N pools and fluxes changed over a decade (15 to 25 yr postfire) of very rapid forest growth? (2) At postfire year 25, how do N pools and fluxes vary with lodgepole pine density and productivity? Lodgepole pine foliage, litter (annual litterfall, forest‐floor litter), and mineral soils were sampled in 14 plots (0.25 ha) that varied in postfire lodgepole pine density (1,500 to 344,000 stems/ha) and aboveground net primary production (ANPP; 1.4 to 16.1 Mg·ha−1·yr−1). Counter to expectation, foliar N concentrations in lodgepole pine current‐year and composite needles (1.33 and 1.11% N, respectively) had not changed over time. Further, all measured ecosystem N pools increased substantially: foliar N increased to 89 kg N/ha (+93%), O‐horizon N increased to 39 kg N/ha (+38%), and mineral soil percent total N (0–15 cm) increased to 0.08% (+33%). Inorganic N availability also increased to 0.69 μg N·[g resin]−1·d−1 (+165%). Thus, soil N did not decline as live biomass N pools increased. Among stands, biomass N pools at postfire year 25 remained strongly influenced by early postfire tree density: foliar and litterfall N concentrations declined with lodgepole pine density and ANPP, but the foliar N pool increased. Lodgepole pine ANPP correlated negatively with annual resin‐sorbed N, and we found no indication of widespread N limitation. The large increases in N pools cannot be explained by atmospheric N deposition or presence of known N fixers. These results suggest an unmeasured N source and are consistent with recent reports of N fixation in young lodgepole pine.

Citation: Turner MG, whitby TG, and Romme WH. 2019. Feast not famine: Nitrogen pools recover rapidly in 25‐yr‐old postfire lodgepole pine. Ecology 100 (3): e02626. https://doi.org/10.1002/ecy.2626
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Ecosystem Changes, Function, Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 19281
Record updated: Apr 9, 2019