Modelling nitrogen mineralization and plant nitrogen uptake as affected by reclamation cover depth in reclaimed upland forestlands of Northern Alberta

Abstract

Early forest re-establishment in landforms constructed from materials such as overburden or mine waste is partly determined by nitrogen (N) availability in reclamation covers. Here we examined whether the ecosystem model ecosys which simulates key processes governing N availability such as mineralization, plant N uptake and N return to soil through litterfall could be used to forecast potential N limitations for forest re-establishment in these constructed landforms. In this study, N cycling was simulated and tested against measured soil, foliar and surface litter N concentrations with three soil covers differing in thickness (35, 50, and 100 cm) in a 17-year-old forest reclamation site and in an analogue natural forested site in northern Alberta. Overall, results from this study demonstrated the applicability of the ecosys model in predicting nutrient cycling in reclaimed upland forestlands. Results of this study highlight the importance of optimum cover depth to ensure sufficient N is available for plant growth. Even though the modelled net N mineralization, N uptake and thereby plant productivity increased with cover depth, the foliar and surface litter N concentrations did not. A non-linear relationship between total soil nitrogen (TN) stocks and modelled net N mineralization indicated that cover depth, which determines TN stock, had little effect on net primary productivity beyond a threshold TN. This threshold was 17 Mg N ha−1, similar to TN for the 100 cm cover, giving a net N mineralization rate of ~ 3.5 g N m−2 year−1, and this was attributed to reduced microbial activity in deeper soil layers.

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Acknowledgements

Funding for the study was provided by the Land Reclamation International Graduate School (LRIGS) at the University of Alberta, the NSERC Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) Program, and Canadian Oil Sands Network for Research and Development (CONRAD). Computational facilities for the modelling project were provided by Compute Canada and WestGrid high-performance computing infrastructure, and the University of Alberta. The great support in providing field data by Syncrude Canada limited is very much appreciated and special thanks goes to Marty Yarmuch and Bonnie Drozdowski for providing support to get field data. We would like to acknowledge Emily Lloret, Cassandra McKenzie, Jela Burkus, Luke Donnan, Kelti Eaton, Melanie Luong for field data acquisition and laboratory assistance.

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Welegedara, N.P.Y., Grant, R.F., Quideau, S.A. et al. Modelling nitrogen mineralization and plant nitrogen uptake as affected by reclamation cover depth in reclaimed upland forestlands of Northern Alberta. Biogeochemistry 149, 293–315 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10533-020-00676-5

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Keywords

  • Reclamation cover depth
  • Nitrogen availability
  • Net primary productivity
  • Ecosys