Using soil temperature and moisture to predict forest soil nitrogen mineralization
Due to the importance of N in forest productivity ecosystem and nutrient cycling research often includes measurement of soil N transformation rates as indices of potential availability and ecosystem losses of N. We examined the feasibility of using soil temperature and moisture content to predict soil N mineralization rates (Nmin) at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory in the southern Appalachians. We conducted seasonal laboratory incubations of A and AB horizon soils from three sites with mixed-oak vegetation using temperature and moisture levels characteristic of the season in which the soils were collected. The incubations showed that temperature and temperature-moisture interactions significantly affected net soil Nmin. We used the laboratory data to generate equations relating net Nmin to soil temperature and moisture data. Using field-collected temperature and moisture data we then calculated Nmin on similar forest sites and compared predicted rates with in situ, closed-core Nmin measurements. The comparison showed that the in situ Nmin was greater than rates predicted from laboratory generated equations (slope =3.22; r2 =0.89). Our study suggests that while climatic factors have a significant effect on soil Nmin, other factors also influence rates measured in the laboratory and in situ.