Response of Coniferous Forest Ecosystems on Mineral Soils to Nutrient Additions: A Review of Swedish Experiences

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Abstract:

Nitrogen (N) is the only nutrient that promotes forest growth when given individually. An extra stem growth of 15 m3 ha-1 is obtained during a 10 yr period following an application of 150 kg N ha-1. Larger growth increases have often been the result of more intensive N fertilization. Lime or wood ash give a minor growth stimulation on sites with a carbon (C) to N ratio below 30 in the humus layer, while the opposite effect prevails on N-poor sites. Nutrients given as soluble fertilizers are readily taken up by trees. Boron deficiency may be induced in northern Sweden after N fertilization or liming. The ground vegetation may be altered by single-shot N fertilization, but long-term effects occur only for intensive regimes. Lime or wood ash may modify the flora if soil pH is significantly altered: the change will be in response to N availability. Fruit-body production of mycorrhizal fungi is disfavoured by chronic N input, but also by lime or ash. However, the mycorrhizal structures on root tips are less affected. Faunistic studies are not common and those present are mostly devoted to soil fauna. A practical N dose of 150 kg N ha-1 has no clear effect, but higher doses may reduce the abundance in some groups. Hardened wood ash does not significantly affect the soil fauna. Lime favours snails and earthworms, while other groups are often disfavoured. The response of aquatic fauna to terrestrial treatments has hardly been studied. N fertilization generally results in insignificant effects on fish and benthic fauna. Lime and wood ash reduce the acidity of the topsoil, but practical doses (2-3 t ha-1) are too low to raise the alkalinity of runoff unless outflow areas are treated. N fertilizer use in forestry and N-free fertilizers lack effects on acidification. N fertilization may, however, be strongly acidifying if nitrification is induced and followed by nitrate leaching. N fertilization often results in increased long-term C retention in trees and soil, but does not promote significant N2O losses. N may temporarily reduce CH4 oxidation in soil, but there are indications of a long-term opposite effect. Lime and poorly hardened wood ash may cause losses of C from N-rich soils. Only a few per cent of added N are leached to surface water following practical N fertilization, while N-free fertilizers do not induce N leaching. Soil incubations and soil-water studies suggest an increased risk for nitrate formation and leaching where lime or wood have been added to N-rich soils, but increased leaching to surface water has not been observed. Wood ash causes a temporal increase in bioavailability of cadmium (Cd). Other fertilizers may indirectly increase the availability of heavy metals. Wood ash may contain radioactive caesium 137Cs, but addition of such ash does not increase radioactivity in plants and soil.
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