We evaluated the long-term (1995–2008) trends in foliar and sapwood metabolism, soil solution chemistry and tree mortality rates in response to chronic nitrogen (N) additions to pine and hardwood stands at the Harvard Forest Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site. Common stress-related metabolites like polyamines (PAs), free amino acids (AAs) and inorganic elements were analyzed for control, low N (LN, 50 kg NH4NO3 ha−1 year−1) and high N (HN, 150 kg NH4NO3 ha−1 year−1) treatments. In the pine stands, partitioning of excess N into foliar PAs and AAs increased with both N treatments until 2002. By 2005, several of these effects on N metabolites disappeared for HN, and by 2008 they were mostly observed for LN plot. A significant decline in foliar Ca and P was observed mostly with HN for a few years until 2005. However, sapwood data actually showed an increase in Ca, Mg and Mn and no change in PAs in the HN plot for 2008, while AAs data revealed trends that were generally similar to foliage for 2008. Concomitant with these changes, mortality data revealed a large number of dead trees in HN pine plots by 2002; the mortality rate started to decline by 2005. Oak trees in the hardwood plot did not exhibit any major changes in PAs, AAs, nutrients and mortality rate with LN treatment, indicating that oak trees were able to tolerate the yearly doses of 50 kg NH4NO3 ha−1 year−1. However, HN trees suffered from physiological and nutritional stress along with increased mortality in 2008. In this case also, foliar data were supported by the sapwood data. Overall, both low and high N applications resulted in greater physiological stress to the pine trees than the oaks. In general, the time course of changes in metabolic data are in agreement with the published reports on changes in soil chemistry and microbial community structure, rates of soil carbon sequestration and production of woody biomass for this chronic N study. This correspondence of selected metabolites with other measures of forest functions suggests that the metabolite analyses are useful for long-term monitoring of the health of forest trees.

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Tree Physiology


Oxford University Press

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This is an article published by Oxford University Press in Tree Physiology in 2015, available online: