Stable N isotope composition of nitrate reflects N transformations during the passage of water through a montane rain forest in Ecuador

Schwarz, Martin T.; Oelmann, Yvonne; Wilcke, Wolfgang (2011). Stable N isotope composition of nitrate reflects N transformations during the passage of water through a montane rain forest in Ecuador. Biochemistry, 102(1-3), pp. 195-208. Washington, D.C.: American Chemical Society 10.1007/s10533-010-9434-5

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Knowledge of the fate of deposited N in the possibly N-limited, highly biodiverse north Andean forests is important because of the possible effects of N inputs on plant performance and species composition. We analyzed concentrations and fluxes of NO3 −–N, NH4 +–N and dissolved organic N (DON) in rainfall, throughfall, litter leachate, mineral soil solutions (0.15–0.30 m depths) and stream water in a montane forest in Ecuador during four consecutive quarters and used the natural 15N abundance in NO3 − during the passage of rain water through the ecosystem and bulk δ15N values in soil to detect N transformations. Depletion of 15N in NO3 − and increased NO3 −–N fluxes during the passage through the canopy and the organic layer indicated nitrification in these compartments. During leaching from the organic layer to mineral soil and stream, NO3 − concentrations progressively decreased and were enriched in 15N but did not reach the δ15N values of solid phase organic matter (δ15N = 5.6–6.7‰). This suggested a combination of nitrification and denitrification in mineral soil. In the wettest quarter, the δ15N value of NO3 − in litter leachate was smaller (δ15N = −1.58‰) than in the other quarters (δ15N = −9.38 ± SE 0.46‰) probably because of reduced mineralization and associated fractionation against 15N. Nitrogen isotope fractionation of NO3 − between litter leachate and stream water was smaller in the wettest period than in the other periods probably because of a higher rate of denitrification and continuous dilution by isotopically lighter NO3 −–N from throughfall and nitrification in the organic layer during the wettest period. The stable N isotope composition of NO3 − gave valuable indications of N transformations during the passage of water through the forest ecosystem from rainfall to the stream.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Schwarz, Martin and Wilcke, Wolfgang


900 History > 910 Geography & travel




American Chemical Society




Factscience Import

Date Deposited:

04 Oct 2013 14:26

Last Modified:

19 Dec 2014 22:43

Publisher DOI:


Web of Science ID:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Denitrification, 15N natural abundance, Nitrate, Nitrification, Terrestrial N cycling, Tropical montane forest



URI: (FactScience: 214857)

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