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Modelling nitrogen saturation and carbon accumulation in heathland soils under elevated nitrogen deposition

Evans, Christopher D. and Caporn, Simon J.M. and Carroll, Jacqueline A. and Pilkington, Michael G. and Wilson, Deirdre B. and Ray, Nicholas and Cresswell, Neil (2006) Modelling nitrogen saturation and carbon accumulation in heathland soils under elevated nitrogen deposition. Environmental pollution, 143 (3). pp. 468-478. ISSN 0269-7491

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Abstract

A simple model of nitrogen (N) saturation, based on an extension of the biogeochemical model MAGIC, has been tested at two long-running heathland N manipulation experiments. The model simulates N immobilisation as a function of organic soil C/N ratio, but permits a proportion of immobilised N to be accompanied by accumulation of soil carbon (C), slowing the rate of C/N ratio change and subsequent N saturation. The model successfully reproduced observed treatment effects on soil C and N, and inorganic N leaching, for both sites. At the C-rich upland site, N addition led to relatively small reductions in soil C/N, low inorganic N leaching, and a substantial increase in organic soil C. At the C-poor lowland site, soil C/N ratio decreases and N leaching increases were much more dramatic, and soil C accumulation predicted to be smaller. The study suggests that (i) a simple model can effectively simulate observed changes in soil and leachate N; (ii) previous model predictions based on a constant soil C pool may overpredict future N leaching; (iii) N saturation may develop most rapidly in dry, organic-poor, high-decomposition systems; and (iv) N deposition may lead to significantly enhanced soil C sequestration, particularly in wet, nutrient-poor, organic-rich systems.

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