Long-Term Nitrogen Addition Does Not Increase Soil Carbon Storage or Cycling Across Eight Temperate Forest and Grassland Sites on a Sandy Outwash Plain

Clare E. Kazanski, Charlotte E. Riggs, Peter B. Reich, Sarah E. Hobbie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Experimental nitrogen (N) deposition generally inhibits decomposition and promotes carbon (C) accumulation in soils, but with substantial variation among studies. Differences in ecosystem properties could help explain this variability: N could have distinct effects on decomposition and soil C due to differences in vegetation characteristics (that is, root C inputs and chemistry) that influence microbial biomass or soil properties like pH that can affect organic matter stabilization. We used a 12-year N addition experiment to determine effects of sustained N addition on soil C pool sizes and cycling across different grassland, conifer and deciduous forest sites in Minnesota, USA, while controlling for soil type and climate. We conducted a year-long soil incubation, and fit one- and two-pool decay models to respiration data to identify C pool sizes and decay rates. Contrary to previous studies, we found no consistent effects of N on soil C across sites: soil C stocks, microbial respiration, soil C decay rates and pool sizes all showed no general response to N in these sandy soils. Nevertheless, microbial biomass, microbial respiration, and the root biomass C pool responses to N addition were highly correlated, suggesting that soil C responses were ultimately driven by fine root biomass C responses to N addition, which in turn affected microbial biomass. However, the inconsistent directional responses to N among sites with similar vegetation cover highlight that N addition effects can be site-specific and raise caution for broad extrapolation of results from individual systems to global models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1592-1605
Number of pages14
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the Cedar Creek Long-Term Ecological Research program (National Science Foundation (NSF) DEB-0080302) and by an NSF CAREER award (DEB-0347103). CEK was personally supported by a University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences Graduate Excellence Fellowship and a NSF Graduate Research Fellowship (00039202). The authors would like to further acknowledge Chris Buyarski for assistance with experiment maintenance, Jake Grossman for help in the laboratory, and Allison Gill for help with fieldwork. Authors also thank Dave Tilman, Nancy Johnson, Jessica Gutknecht, Lauren Cline, Melissa Pastore, Craig See, Chris Walter, and Rachel King for helpful comments on manuscript drafts.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.


  • decomposition
  • fertilization
  • incubation
  • microbial respiration
  • nitrogen deposition
  • soil carbon
  • soil organic matter


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