, Volume 117, Issue 2–3, pp 431–454 | Cite as

The effect of nitrogen addition on soil organic matter dynamics: a model analysis of the Harvard Forest Chronic Nitrogen Amendment Study and soil carbon response to anthropogenic N deposition

  • Christina Tonitto
  • Christine L. Goodale
  • Marissa S. Weiss
  • Serita D. Frey
  • Scott V. Ollinger


Recent observations indicate that long-term N additions can slow decomposition, leading to C accumulation in soils, but this process has received limited consideration by models. To address this, we developed a model of soil organic matter (SOM) dynamics to be used with the PnET model and applied it to simulate N addition effects on soil organic carbon (SOC) stocks. We developed the model’s SOC turnover times and responses to experimental N additions using measurements from the Harvard Forest, Massachusetts. We compared model outcomes to SOC stocks measured during the 20th year of the Harvard Forest Chronic Nitrogen Amendment Study, which includes control, low (5 g N m−2 yr−1) and high (15 g N m−2 yr−1) N addition to hardwood and red pine stands. For unfertilized stands, simulated SOC stocks were within 10 % of measurements. Simulations that used measured changes in decomposition rates in response to N accurately captured SOC stocks in the hardwood low N and pine high N treatment, but greatly underestimated SOC stocks in the hardwood high N and the pine low N treatments. Simulated total SOC response to experimental N addition resulted in accumulation of 5.3–7.9 kg C per kg N following N addition at 5 g N m−2 yr−1 and 4.1–5.3 kg C per kg N following N addition at 15 g N m−2 yr−1. Model simulations suggested that ambient atmospheric N deposition at the Harvard Forest (currently 0.8 g N m−2 yr−1) has led to an increase in cumulative O, A, and B horizons C stocks of 211 g C m−2 (3.9 kg C per kg N) and 114 g C m−2 (2.1 kg C per kg N) for hardwood and pine stands, respectively. Simulated SOC accumulation is primarily driven by the modeled decrease in SOM decomposition in the Oa horizon.


Soil organic matter Soil organic carbon Decomposition Carbon storage Nitrogen cycle Nitrogen deposition Forest ecosystem PnET model 



This modeling work was completed with support from the Northeast Regional Center of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Institute for Climate Change Research (NICCR), from the Northeastern States Research Cooperative (NSRC), and the U.S. National Science Foundation award # DEB 0614099. The Chronic Nitrogen Amendment Experiment at Harvard Forest is maintained through support by the Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christina Tonitto
    • 1
    • 2
  • Christine L. Goodale
    • 1
  • Marissa S. Weiss
    • 1
  • Serita D. Frey
    • 3
  • Scott V. Ollinger
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and DevelopmentCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Complex Systems Research Center, Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and SpaceUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA

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