Nitrogen mineralization in O horizon soils during 27 years of nitrogen enrichment at the Bear Brook Watershed in Maine, USA

  • Kaizad F. PatelEmail author
  • Ivan J. Fernandez


Chronic elevated nitrogen (N) deposition has altered the N status of temperate forests, with significant implications for ecosystem function. The Bear Brook Watershed in Maine (BBWM) is a whole paired watershed manipulation experiment established to study the effects of N and sulfur (S) deposition on ecosystem function. N was added bimonthly as (NH4)2SO4 to one watershed from 1989 to 2016, and research at the site has studied the evolution of ecosystem response to the treatment through time. Here, we synthesize results from 27 years of research at the site and describe the temporal trend of N availability and N mineralization at BBWM in response to chronic N deposition. Our findings suggest that there was a delayed response in soil N dynamics, since labile soil N concentrations did not show increases in the treated watershed (West Bear, WB) compared to the reference watershed (East Bear, EB) until after the first 4 years of treatment. Labile N became increasingly available in WB through time, and after 25 years of manipulations, treated soils had 10× more extractable ammonium than EB soils. The WB soils had 200× more extractable nitrate than EB soils, driven by both, high nitrate concentrations in WB and low nitrate concentrations in EB. Nitrification rates increased in WB soils and accounted for ~ 50% of net N mineralization, compared to ~ 5% in EB soils. The study provides evidence of the decadal evolution in soil function at BBWM and illustrates the importance of long-term data to capture ecosystem response to chronic disturbance.


Nitrogen saturation Ammonium Nitrate Nitrogen mineralization Nitrification Forest soils 



We thank Jean D. MacRae, Sarah J. Nelson, Tsutomu Ohno, and Aaron Weiskittel for their input on this manuscript. We are extremely grateful to Cheryl Spencer for her assistance in the laboratory and field, and with data handling. This is a MAFES publication.

Funding information

This study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (DEB-1119709) and the Maine Agriculture and Forest Experiment Station (MAFES).

Supplementary material

10661_2018_6945_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (278 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 278 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Forest ResourcesUniversity of MaineOronoUSA
  2. 2.Climate Change InstituteUniversity of MaineOronoUSA

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