Increased tree growth following long-term optimised fertiliser application indirectly alters soil properties in a boreal forest
European Journal of Forest Research 2020 October: Early access
Van Sundert K, Linder S, Marshall JD, Nordin A, Vicca S

It is well established that nutrient addition influences ecosystem features such as productivity, carbon storage, soil acidification and biodiversity. Less studied are long-term effects of sustained fertiliser application on forest soil characteristics and nutrient supplies, and especially direct and indirect mechanisms underlying changes. We investigated effects of 3 decades versus 1 decade of optimised fertiliser application on soil properties and nutrient supplies in a 30-year-old nutrient optimisation experiment in a Norway spruce plantation in northern Sweden. We tested for direct and indirect effects of fertiliser use through structural equation models and correlations among tree and soil variables. Results showed that soil characteristics, especially organic carbon and nutrient concentrations, were significantly affected by 10- and 30-year fertiliser application. Soil C/N was similar for the short-term versus controls, but decreased for the long-term versus short-term treatment. Although not explicitly measured, it was clear from our analyses and earlier studies at the site that litter accumulation played a key role in explaining these changes in soil properties, while foliar stoichiometry data suggest long-term effects of litter quality. Nutrient supply rates increased more after 30 than 10 years of fertiliser application. Summarized, we showed that the interplay of direct and indirect effects can yield nonlinear patterns over time, as exemplified by soil C/N. Furthermore, we conclude that lagged, indirect effects of fertilisation through altered litter quantity and quality dominate changes in soil characteristics in this forest. These soil characteristics have further relevance to nutrient availability, suggesting that nutrient optimisation can influence soil fertility also indirectly.

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