Assessing Structural and Functional Indicators of Soil Nitrogen Availability in Reclaimed Forest Ecosystems Using 15N-labelled Aspen Litter
Canadian Journal of Soil Science
Landscape-level disturbance is a reality in many parts of the world including the Athabasca oil sands region, Canada, and soils play an essential part in the overall reclamation process. Soils are reconstructed during reclamation to provide a foundation and a nutrient source for the novel ecosystems. However, reclamation is often monitored through structural indicators of soil quality, which may not reflect dynamic ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling. Our objective was to determine if nutrient cycling was occurring on novel ecosystems and if standard structural measures of soil quality were appropriate indicators. We assessed soil quality and nitrogen cycling in reclaimed, harvested and undisturbed aspen forest sites following the addition of 15N-labelled aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) leaf litter to the soil surface. Structural soil quality indicators, including soil moisture and microbial carbon and nitrogen biomass, were higher on the undisturbed site, whereas soil microbial composition differed among sites. Yet, uptake of 15N by microbes and plants, which continued throughout the 52 mo field incubation, was comparable across all sites. These results indicate that differences in structural attributes between disturbed and undisturbed soils do not necessarily translate into differences in soil functioning related to nitrogen cycling. Instead, this case study supports exploring the use of stable isotope tracers to assess dynamic soil function indicators in reclaimed ecosystems. Being able to follow biogeochemical cycling as vegetation becomes established and new forests start to develop following reclamation is key to assessing the long-term sustainability of these novel ecosystems.
Norris, C. E., S. A. Quideau, S. M. Landhäusser, B. Drozdowski, K. E. Hogg, and S.-W. Oh. 2018. Assessing structural and functional indicators of soil nitrogen availability in reclaimed forest ecosystems using 15N-labelled aspen litter. Canadian Journal of Soil Science 98:357-368.