Variation in nitrogen deposition and available soil nitrogen in a forest-grassland ecotone in Canada.

Köchy, M., and S. D. Wilson (2005)

Regional variation in nitrogen (N) deposition increases plant productivity and decreases species diversity, but landscape- or local-scale influences on N deposition are less well-known. Using ion-exchange resin, we measured variation of N deposition and soil N availability within Elk Island National Park in the ecotone between grassland and boreal forest in western Canada. The park receives regionally high amounts of atmospheric N deposition (22 kg ha-1 yr-1). N deposition was on average higher ton clay-rich luvisols than on brunisols, and areas burned 1 - 15 years previously received more atmospheric N than unburned sites. We suggest that the effects of previous fires and soil type on deposition rate act through differences in canopy structure. The magnitude of these effects varied with the presence of ungulate grazers (bison, moose, elk) and vegetation type (forest, shrubland, grassland). Available soil N (ammonium and nitrate) was higher in burned than unburned sites in the absence of grazing, suggesting an effect of deposition. On grazed sites, differences between fire treatments were small, presumably because the removal of biomass by grazers reduced the effect of fire. Aspen invades native grassland in this region, and our results suggest that fire without grazing might reinforce the expansion of forest into grassland facilitated by N deposition.

Full text: Landscape Ecology: 20:191-202 ["Postprint"]