Plant and Soil

, Volume 376, Issue 1–2, pp 399–409 | Cite as

Soil nitrification and foliar δ15N declined with stand age in trembling aspen and jack pine forests in northern Alberta, Canada

  • Ya-Lin Hu
  • En-Rong Yan
  • Woo-Jung Choi
  • Francis Salifu
  • Xiao Tan
  • Z. Chi Chen
  • De-Hui Zeng
  • Scott X. Chang
Regular Article


Background and aims

Understanding changes in soil N cycling with stand development is critical for forest management as tree growth is affected by soil N availability. The aim of this study was to evaluate the changes in soil N availability and loss with stand development in trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) and jack pine (Pinus banksiana Lamb.) in northeastern Alberta, Canada.


Soil inorganic N availability (measured as N supply rate) and foliar N chemistry (N concentration and δ15N) in trembling aspen stands ranged from 52 to 70 years old (n = 7) and jack pine stands 43 to 78 years old (n = 8) were investigated in 2008 and 2009. The relationships among the ratios of NO3 --N to total inorganic N (NO3 --N/TIN), foliar N concentration, and foliar δ15N with stand age were also explored by regression analyses.


Total inorganic N supply rates did not systematically change with stand age across stand types, soil layers and measurement periods; whereas NO3 --N/TIN showed a decreasing tendency with stand age, suggesting that nitrification and associated N loss potential became smaller in older stands with greater limitation in soil N availability. Foliar δ15N decreased with stand age from −1.7 to −4.7‰ for aspen and from −4.1 to −7.1‰ for jack pine, and there were positive correlations between foliar δ15N and soil NO3 --N/TIN, suggesting that decreased soil N loss led to less 15N-depletion in the inorganic N available for tree uptake in older stands. However, foliar N concentration did not significantly change with stand age, suggesting that there were other N sources such as organic N in the forest floor, in addition to the inorganic N, available for plant uptake.


Our results suggest that soil inorganic N availability became more limited as stand age increased. In addition, the ratio of NO3 --N/TIN and its relationship with foliar δ15N indicated decreased soil N loss potential and shifted N sources with stand age in boreal forests that are typically N-limited. Our study demonstrated that declining nitrification with increasing stand age might be one of the mechanisms mediating N-limitation in the studied boreal forests.


Boreal forest Nitrogen concentration Nitrogen isotope ratio Nitrogen loss Stand development 



This study was financially supported by the Cumulative Environmental Management Association (CEMA) in Alberta, Shell Canada Energy, the Alberta Energy Environment Technology Fund, the Oil Sands Research and Information Network (OSRIN), and Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. We are grateful to Raza Purvez, Yue Hu, Pak Chow, Xin Zhang, Fengping Wu, and Shanghua Sun for their considerable help in the field work and laboratory analyses. We also thank two anonymous reviewers and Dr. Yong-Fu Li for their helpful comments that substantially improved an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ya-Lin Hu
    • 1
    • 3
  • En-Rong Yan
    • 2
  • Woo-Jung Choi
    • 4
  • Francis Salifu
    • 5
  • Xiao Tan
    • 6
  • Z. Chi Chen
    • 7
  • De-Hui Zeng
    • 1
  • Scott X. Chang
    • 3
  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Forest and Soil Ecology, Institute of Applied EcologyChinese Academy of SciencesShenyangPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Department of Environment ScienceEast China Normal UniversityShanghaiPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Department of Renewable ResourcesUniversity of AlbertaEdmontonCanada
  4. 4.Department of Rural & Biosystems EngineeringChonnam National UniversityGwangjuSouth Korea
  5. 5.Total E&P Canada Ltd.CalgaryCanada
  6. 6.Shell Canada EnergyFort McMurrayCanada
  7. 7.Land and Forestry Policy Branch, Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource DevelopmentEdmontonCanada

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