Nutrient Cycling in Red Spruce Forests of the Great Smoky Mountains

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Canadian Journal of Forest Research






National Research Council Canada

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nutrient cycling, red spruce forests, Great Smoky Mountains

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Nutrient distributions, concentrations, and fluxes in two red spruce (Picearubens Sarg.) stands in the Great Smoky Mountains are described and used to evaluate various hypotheses for recent decline of this species. These forests, like others in the southern Appalachians, were relatively rich in N and low in base cation status. The combination of high atmospheric N and S deposition, little or no N or S retention, relatively high N mineralization, and extremely acid soils caused soil solutions to be dominated by NO3−, SO42−, Al, and H+. Soil solution Al in these sites (most of which was in monomeric form) occasionally reached levels noted to inhibit base cation uptake and root growth in solution culture studies. These pulses of Al were driven by pulses of NO3− and, to a lesser extent, SO42− in soil solution. However, fine roots were present at depths of up to 60 cm in the mineral soil, indicating that Al concentrations had not become consistently toxic to roots. Solution fluxes (both throughfall and soil leaching) exceeded litter-fall fluxes for all the macronutrients at both sites, a typical situation for K and S, but most unusual for N, P, Ca, and Mg. There are significant implications of these fluxes and of the apparent net uptake of N by foliage in terms of how vegetation uptake and translocation are calculated. Some new formulations are suggested, but measurement errors in systems with such a predominance of hydrologic fluxes make foliar leaching and, therefore, uptake and translocation calculations extremely uncertain. Although there are no outward signs of decline in these forests (other than balsam fir (Abiesbalsamea (L.) Mill.) mortality due to the balsam woolly adelgid (Adelgespiceae (Ratz.))), the high rates of NO3− leaching rates and the borderline soil solution Al values suggest that these systems are under stress. Whether these factors actually lead to a dieback or growth decline remains to be seen.


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