, Volume 107, Issue 1–3, pp 165–185 | Cite as

An exploration of how litter controls drainage water DIN, DON and DOC dynamics in freely draining acid grassland soils

  • Muhammad Riaz
  • Ishaq A. Mian
  • Ambreen Bhatti
  • Malcolm S. Cresser


Surface and subsurface litter fulfil many functions in the biogeochemical cycling of C and N in terrestrial ecosystems. These were explored using a microcosm study by monitoring dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) (NH4 +–N + NO3 –N), dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentrations and fluxes in drainage water under ambient outdoor temperatures. Subsurface litter remarkably reduced the DIN concentrations in winter, probably by microbial N uptake associated with higher C:N ratio of added litter compared with soil at 10–25 cm depth. Fluxes of DIN were generally dominated by NO3 –N; but NH4 +–N strongly dominated DIN fluxes during freeze–thaw events. Appreciable concentrations of NH4 +–N were observed in the drainage from the acid grassland soils throughout the experiment, indicating NH4 +–N mobility and export in drainage water especially during freeze–thaw. Litter contributed substantially to DOC and DON production and they were correlated positively (p < 0.01) for all treatments. DOC and DON concentrations correlated with temperature for the control (p < 0.01) and surface litter (p < 0.001) treatments and they were higher in late summer. The subsurface litter treatment, however, moderated the effect of temperature on DOC and DON dynamics. Cumulative N species fluxes confirmed the dominance of litter as the source of DON and DOC in the drainage water. DON constituted 42, 46 and 62% of cumulative TDN flux for control, surface litter and subsurface litter treatments respectively.


Litter Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) Dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) Dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) Seasonal variations Grassland 



The authors thank the Higher Education Commission, Islamabad, Pakistan, for financial support. Thanks are extended also to Rebecca Sutton for help in laboratory work and with some analyses, to Clair Suddaby for permission to sample at the Hob Moor Nature Reserve, and to Jonathan Sanderman for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


  1. Aber J, McDowell W, Nadelhoffer K, Alison M, Berntson G, Kamakea M, McNulty S, Currie W, Rustad L, Fernandez I (1998) Nitrogen saturation in temperate forest ecosystems. Bioscience 48:921–934CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Adamson JA, Hornung M, Kennedy VH, Norris DA, Paterson IS, Stevens PA (1993) Soil solution chemistry and throughfall under adjacent stands of Japanese larch and Stika spruce at three contrasting sites in Britain. Forestry 66:51–68CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Andersson S, Nilsson SI, Saetre P (2000) Leaching of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) in mor humus as affected by temperature and pH. Soil Biol Biochem 32:1–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Arrouays D, Deslais W, Badeau V (2001) The carbon content of topsoil and its geographical distribution in France. Soil Use Manag 17:7–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Batey T (1988) Soil husbandry. Soil and Land Use Consultants Ltd, AberdeenGoogle Scholar
  6. Berg B, Cortina J (1995) Nutrient dynamics in some decomposing leaf and needle litter types in a Pinus sylvestris forest. Scand J For Res 10:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bryant DM, Holland EA, Seastedt TR, Walker MD (1998) Analysis of litter decomposition in an alpine tundra. Can J Bot 76:1295–1304Google Scholar
  8. Campbell JL, Hornbeck JW, McDowell WH, Buso DC, Shanley JB, Likens GE (2000) Dissolved organic nitrogen budgets for upland, forested ecosystems in New England. Biogeochemistry 49:123–142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Chapman PJ (1994) Hydrochemical processes influencing episodic stream water chemistry in a small headwater catchment, Plynlimon, Mid-Wales. PhD Thesis, University of London, 416 ppGoogle Scholar
  10. Chapman PJ, Edwards AC (1999) The impact of atmospheric nitrogen deposition on the behaviour of nitrogen in surface waters. In: Langan SJ (ed) The impact of nitrogen deposition on natural and semi-natural ecosystems. Kluwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands, pp 153–212Google Scholar
  11. Chiou CT, Malcolm RL, Brinton TI, Kile DE (1986) Water solubility enhancement of some organic pollutants and pesticides by dissolved humic and fulvic acids. Environ Sci Technol 20:502–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Christ MJ, Peterjohn WT, Cumming JR, Adams MB (2002) Nitrification potentials and landscape, soil and vegetation characteristics in two Central Appalachian watersheds differing in NO3 export. For Ecol Manag 159:141–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Currie WS, Aber JD, McDowell WH, Boone RD, Magill AH (1996) Vertical transport of dissolved organic C and N under long-term N amendments in pine and hardwood forests. Biogeochemistry 35:471–505CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davidson EA, Hart SC, Firestone MK (1992) Internal cycling of nitrate in soils of a mature coniferous forest. Ecology 73:1148–1156CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Don A, Kalbitz K (2005) Amounts and degradability of dissolved organic carbon from foliar litter at different decomposition stages. Soil Biol Biochem 37:2171–2179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dubeux JCB Jr, Sollenberger, Mathews BW, Scholberg JM, Santos HQ (2007) Nutrient cycling in warm-climate grasslands. Crop Sci 47:915–928CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Duckworth CMS, Cresser MS (1991) Factors influencing nitrogen retention in forest soils. Environ Pollut 72:1–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Edwards AC, Cresser MS (1992) Freezing and its effects on chemical and biological properties of soil. Adv Soil Sci 18:59–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fernando WARN, Xia K, Rice CW (2005) Sorption and desorption of ammonium from liquid swine waste in soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 69:1057–1065CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Finlay RD, Frostegård Å, Sonnerfeldt AM (1992) Utilization of organic and inorganic nitrogen sources by ectomycorrhizal fungi in pure culture and in symbiosis with Pinus contorta Dougl. Ex Loud. New Phytol 120:105–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fröberg M, Kleja DB, Hagedorn F (2007) The contribution of fresh litter to dissolved organic carbon leached from a coniferous forest floor. Eur J Soil Sci 58:108–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ghani A, Dexter M, Carran RA, Theobold PW (2007) Dissolved organic nitrogen and carbon in pastoral soils: the New Zealand experience. Eur J Soil Sci 58:832–843CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gödde M, David MB, Christ MJ, Kaupenjohann M, Vance GF (1996) Carbon mineralization from the forest floor under red spruce in the northern U.S.A. Soil Biol Biochem 28:1181–1189CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goodale CL, Aber JD, Vitousek PM, McDowell WH (2005) Long-term decrease in stream nitrate: successional causes unlikely; possible links to DOC? Ecosystems 8:334–337CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gregorich EG, Beare MH, Stoklas U, St-Georges P (2003) Biodegradability of soluble organic matter in maize-cropped soils. Geoderma 113:237–252CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Hättenschwiler S, Tiunov AV, Scheu S (2005) Biodiversity and litter decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems. Annu Rev Ecol Evol Syst 36:191–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hawkins JMB, Scholefield D, Jarvis SC (1997) Organic N losses from a poorly drained grassland soil. In: Petchey AM, D’Arcy BJ, Frost CA (eds) Proceedings of the Scottish agricultural college diffuse pollution and agriculture conference II, Edinburgh University, Edinburgh, pp 246–248Google Scholar
  28. Hedin LO, Armesto JJ, Johnson AH (1995) Patterns of nutrient loss from unpolluted, old-growth temperature forests: evaluation of biogeochemical theory. Ecology 76:493–509CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hefting MM, Clement J-C, Bienkowski P, Dowrick D, Guenat C, Butturini A, Topa S, Pinay G, Verhoeven JTA (2005) The role of vegetation and litter in the nitrogen dynamics of riparian buffer zones in Europe. Ecol Eng 24:465–482CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Henry H, Brizgys K, Field C (2008) Litter decomposition in a California annual grassland: interactions between photodegradation and litter layer thickness. Ecosystems 11:545–554CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hinman WC (1970) Effects of freezing and thawing on some chemical properties of three soils. Can J Soil Sci 50:179–182CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Homann PS, Grigal DF (1992) Molecular weight distribution of soluble organics from laboratory-manipulated surface soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 56:1305–1310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Idol TW, Pope PE, Ponder FJ (2003) N mineralization, nitrification, and N uptake across a 100-year chronosequence of upland hardwood forests. For Ecol Manag 176:509–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Jones DL, Shannon D, Murphy DV, Farrar J (2004) Role of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) in soil N cycling in grassland soils. Soil Biol Biochem 36:749–756CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kaiser K, Guggenberger G, Zech W (1997) Natural dissolved organic matter in forest soils: 2. Biotic immobilization in the mineral soil. In: Proceedings symposium on refractory organic substances in the environment, Karlsruhe, pp 232–235Google Scholar
  36. Kaiser K, Kaupenjohann M, Zech W (2001) Sorption of dissolved organic carbon in soils: effects of soil sample storage, soil-to-solution ratio, and temperature. Geoderma 99:317–328CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kaiser K, Guggenberger G, Haumaier L, Zech W (2002) The composition of dissolved organic matter in forest soil solutions: changes induced by seasons and passage through the mineral soil. Org Geochem 33:307–318CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kalbitz K, Solinger S, Park J-H, Michalzik B, Matzner E (2000) Controls on the dynamics of dissolved organic matter in soils: a review. Soil Sci 165:277–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Khanna PK (1981) Leaching of nitrogen from terrestrial ecosystems-patterns, mechanisms and ecosystem responses. In: Clark FE, Rosswall T (eds) Terrestrial nitrogen cycles. Ecol Bull (Stockholm) 33:343–352Google Scholar
  40. Kuperman RG (1999) Litter decomposition and nutrient dynamics in oak-hickory forests along a historic gradient of nitrogen and sulfur deposition. Soil Biol Biochem 31:237–244CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lavelle P, Blanchart E, Martin A, Martin S, Spain A (1993) A hierarchical model for decomposition in terrestrial ecosystems: application to soils of the humid tropics. Biotropica 25:130–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Likens GE, Bormann FH, Johnson NM, Fisher DW, Pierce RS (1970) Effects of forest cutting and herbicide treatment on nutrient budgets in the Hubbard Brook Watershed ecosystem. Ecol Monogr 40:23–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lorz C, Eissner C, Lethmate J, Schneider B (2010) Spatial and temporal small-scale variability of nitrogen mobilization in a forest ecosystem with high N deposition in NW-Germany. Environ Pollut 158:424–439CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Magil AH, Aber JD (2000) Dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen relationships in forest litter as affected by nitrogen deposition. Soil Biol Biochem 32:603–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. McCracken KL, McDowell WH, Harter RD, Evans CV (2002) Dissolved organic carbon retention in soils: comparison of solution and soil measurements. Soil Sci Soc Am J 66:563–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McDowell WH (2003) Dissolved organic matter in soils—future directions and unanswered questions. Geoderma 113:179–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McDowell WH, Likens GE (1988) Origin, composition and flux of the dissolved organic carbon in the Hubbard Brook valley. Ecol Monogr 58:177–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Mian IA, Riaz M, Cresser MS (2009) The importance of ammonium mobility in nitrogen-impacted unfertilized grasslands: a critical reassessment. Environ Pollut 157:1287–1293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mian IA, Begum S, Riaz M, Ridealgh M, McClean CJ, Cresser MS (2010) Spatial and temporal trends in nitrate concentrations in the River Derwent, North Yorkshire, and its need for NVZ status. Sci Total Environ 408:702–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Michalzik B, Matzner E (1999) Fluxes and dynamics of dissolved organic nitrogen and carbon in a spruce (Picea abies Karst.) forest ecosystem. Eur J Soil Sci 50:579–590CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Michalzik B, Kalbitz K, Park J-H, Matzner E (2001) Fluxes and concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen—a synthesis for temperate forests. Biogeochemistry 52:173–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Michalzik B, Tipping E, Mulder J, Gallardo Lancho JF, Matzner E, Bryant C, Clarke N, Lofts S, Vicente Esteban MA (2003) Modelling the production and transport of dissolved organic carbon in forest soils. Biogeochemistry 66:241–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Müller M, Alewell C, Hagedorn F (2009) Effective retention of litter-derived dissolved organic carbon in organic layers. Soil Biol Biochem 41:1066–1074CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Murphy DV, Macdonald AJ, Stockdale EA, Goulding KWT, Fortune S, Gaunt JL (2000) Soluble organic nitrogen in agricultural soils. Biol Fertil Soils 30:374–387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. National Expert Group on Transboundary Air Pollution (NEGTAP) (2001) Transboundary air pollution: acidification, eutrophication and ground-level ozone in the UK. Accessed 22 April 2008
  56. Neff JC, Asner GP (2001) Dissolved organic carbon in terrestrial ecosystems: a synthesis and a model. Ecosystems 4:29–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nieder R, Benbi DK (2008) Carbon and nitrogen in the terrestrial environment. Springer-Verlag, New York, pp 219–233CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Northup RR, Yu Z, Dahlgren RA, Vogt KA (1995) Polyphenol control of nitrogen release from pine litter. Nature 377:227–229CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Park JH, Matzner E (2006) Detrital control on the release of dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) and dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) from the forest floor under chronic N deposition. Environ Pollut 143:178–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Qualls RG, Haines BL (1992) Biodegradability of dissolved organic matter in forest throughfall, soil solution, and stream water. Soil Sci Soc Am J 56:578–586CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Qualls RG, Haines BL, Swank WT (1991) Fluxes of dissolved organic nutrients and humic substances in a deciduous forest. Ecology 72:254–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Riaz M, Mian IA, Cresser MS (2008) Extent and causes of 3D spatial variations in potential N mineralization and the risk of ammonium and nitrate leaching from an N-impacted permanent grassland near York, UK. Environ Pollut 156:1075–1082CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Riaz M, Mian IA, Cresser MS (2009) Controls on inorganic N species transformations and potential leaching in freely drained sub-soils of heavily N-impacted acid grassland. Biogeochemistry 92:263–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Sanderman J, Baldock JA, Amundson R (2008) Dissolved organic carbon chemistry and dynamics in contrasting forest and grassland soils. Biogeochemistry 89:181–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sayer EJ (2006) Using experimental manipulation to assess the roles of leaf litter in the functioning of forest ecosystems. Biol Rev 81:1–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sierra J (1997) Temperature and soil moisture dependence of N mineralization in intact soil cores. Soil Biol Biochem 29:1557–1563CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Skinner JA, Lewis KA, Bardon KS, Tucker P, Catt JA, Chambers BJ (1997) An overview of the environmental impact of agriculture in the UK. J Environ Manag 50:111–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Solinger S, Kalbitz K, Matzner E (2001) Controls on the dynamics of dissolved organic carbon and nitrogen in a Central European deciduous forest. Biogeochemistry 55:327–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Stevenson FJ (1994) Humus chemistry: genesis, composition, reactions, 2nd edn. Willey, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  70. Sutcliffe DW, Carrick TR, Heron J, Rigg E, Talling JF, Woof C, Lund JWG (1982) Long-term and seasonal changes in the chemical composition of precipitation and surface waters of lakes and tarns in the English Lake District. Freshw Biol 12:451–506CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Tipping E (2002) Cation binding by humic substances. Cambridge environmental chemistry series, vol 12. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Vance GF, David MB (1989) Effect of acid treatment on dissolved organic carbon retention by a spodic horizon. Soil Sci Soc Am J 53:1242–1247CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Williams BL, Anderson HA (1999) The role of plant and soil processes in determining the fate of atmospheric nitrogen. In: Langan SJ (ed) The impact of nitrogen deposition on natural and semi-natural ecosystems. Kluwer Academic Publishers, The Netherlands, pp 51–84Google Scholar
  74. Yano Y, McDowell WH, Aber JD (2000) Biodegradable dissolved organic carbon in forest soil solution and effects of chronic nitrogen deposition. Soil Biol Biochem 32:1743–1751CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Muhammad Riaz
    • 1
  • Ishaq A. Mian
    • 1
  • Ambreen Bhatti
    • 1
  • Malcolm S. Cresser
    • 1
  1. 1.Environment DepartmentThe University of YorkHeslington, YorkUK

Personalised recommendations