Atmospheric N deposition increases organic N loss from temperate forests

E. N.J. Brookshire, H. M. Valett, S. A. Thomas, J. R. Webster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


Atmospheric deposition of nitrogen (N) resulting from fossil fuel combustion has increased N inputs to temperate forests worldwide with large consequences for forest productivity and water quality. Recent work has illustrated that dissolved organic N (DON) often dominates N loss from unpolluted forests and that the relative magnitude of dissolved inorganic N (DIN) loss increases with atmospheric loading. In contrast to DIN, DON loss is thought to be controlled by soil dynamics that operate independently of N supply and demand and thus should track dissolved organic carbon (DOC) following strict stoichiometric constraints. Conversely, DON loss may shift with N supply if soil (SOM) or dissolved organic matter (DOM) is stoichiometrically altered. Here, we assess these two explanations of DON loss, which we refer to as the Passive Carbon Vehicle and the Stoichiometric Enrichment hypotheses, by analyzing patterns in soil and stream C and N in forest watersheds spanning a broad gradient in atmospheric N loading (5-45 kg N ha-1 y -1). We show that soil N and DON losses are not static but rather increase asymptotically with N loading whereas soil C and DOC do not, resulting in enrichment of organic N expressed as decreased soil C:N and stream DOC:DON ratios. DON losses from unpolluted sites are consistent with conservative dissolution and transport of refractory SOM. As N supply increases, however, N enrichment of organic losses is greater than expected from simple dissolution of enriched soils, suggesting activation of novel pathways of DON production or direct N enrichment of DOM. We suggest that our two hypotheses represent domains of control over forest DON loss as N supply increases but also that stoichiometric enrichment of bulk soils alone cannot fully account for large DON losses in the most N-polluted forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-262
Number of pages11
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Atmospheric deposition
  • DON
  • Stoichiometry
  • Stream chemistry
  • Temperate forests
  • Watersheds

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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