Chronic nitrogen enrichment affects the structure and function of the soil microbial community in temperate hardwood and pine forests


We examined how chronic nitrogen (N) enrichment of pine and hardwood forest stands has affected the relative abundance, functional capacity, and activity of soil bacteria and fungi. During Fall 2002 we collected one soil core (5.6 cm diameter; organic horizon plus 10 cm of mineral soil) from each of four m subplots within the control, low N (5 g N m−2 per year), and high N (15 g N m−2 per year) plots in both the hardwood and pine stands at the Chronic Nitrogen Amendment Study at Harvard Forest. The samples were analyzed for total and active bacterial and fungal biomass, microbial catabolic response profiles, the activities of cellulolytic and ligninolytic enzymes, and total, labile and microbially derived organic carbon (C). Live, fine roots were also collected from the control and low N pine plots and analyzed for ectomycorrhizal fungal community composition and diversity. Active fungal biomass was 27–61% and 42–69% lower in the fertilized compared to control plots in the hardwood and pine stands, respectively. Active bacterial biomass was not greatly affected by N additions, resulting in significantly lower fungal:bacterial biomass ratios in the N-treated plots. This shift in microbial community composition was accompanied by a significant reduction in the activity of phenol oxidase, a lignin-degrading enzyme produced by white-rot fungi. In the pine stand, ectomycorrhizal fungal community diversity was lower in the low N-treated plot than in the control plot. Differences in ectomycorrhizal community structure were also detected between control and fertilized pine plots, including a reduction in those species with the highest relative frequencies in the control community. Finally, N enrichment altered the pattern of microbial substrate use, with the relative response to the addition of carboxylic acids and carbohydrates being significantly lower in the N-treated plots, even after the data were normalized to account for differences in microbial biomass. These patterns are consistent with lower decomposition rates and altered N cycling observed previously at this site.


Soil Biogeochemistry and Microbial Ecology

Publication Date


Journal Title

Forest Ecology and Management



Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Document Type



© 2004 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.