Nitrogen mineralization and productivity in 50 hardwood and conifer stands on diverse soils

Peter B. Reich, David F. Grigal, John D. Aber, Stith T. Gower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

362 Scopus citations


The generality of relationships between soil net nitrogen (N) mineralization, aboveground N cycling, and aboveground net primary production (ANPP) for temperate forest ecosystems is unclear. It is also not known whether these variables and their relationships differ between evergreen and deciduous forests, or across soil types. To address these questions we compiled data on annual rates of in situ net N mineralization and ANPP for 16 conifer and 34 hardwood forests, including plantations and natural stands on a range of soils at six locations in Wisconsin and Minnesota, USA. For 31 natural stands, 48 stands with native species (including plantations), and all data, ANPP increased linearly with annual net N mineralization rates. Native evergreen conifer and two deciduous hardwood types (oaks and mesic hardwoods) followed similar patterns in this regression, indicating common functional relationships at the ecosystem level. The relationship of N mineralization and ANPP differed between finer textured Alfisol soils and sandier Entisols, with higher ANPP at any given N mineralization level in Alfisols. A multiple regression of N mineralization on soil texture (percentage silt plus clay), litterfall N, and mean annual temperature explained 81% of the variance in annual N mineralization for natural stands, and a multiple regression of ANPP on soil texture and annual N mineralization rate explained 83% of the variance in ANPP. Naturally regenerated forest types differed in mean annual net N mineralization, litterfall N, and ANPP, and all were greater in oaks than in mesic hardwoods or conifers, respectively. However, differences among the 50 stands and six locations were largely a result of differences in soils and stand origin. For all natural hardwood stands, ANPP and N mineralization were greater on fine-textured Alfisols than on sandy Entisols. For evergreen conifers, ANPP and N mineralization were greater in plantations on Alfisols than in natural stands on Histosols, Entisols, or Spodosols. Hardwood and evergreen conifer stands did not differ significantly in ANPP or N mineralization on comparable soils and stand origin: they differed neither as plantations on Alfisols nor as natural stands on Entisols. This suggests that observed average differences among natural forest types in ANPP and N mineralization resulted largely from variation in their distribution on differing soils, and not from feedback effects on N mineralization or differing productivity per available N. These data suggest that, at a regional scale, at least half of the variation in ANPP can be attributed to variation in annual N mineralization. Both ANPP and N mineralization differ more strongly with soil type/parent material than with forest type; ANPP at any given level of N mineralization is higher on silty/loamy Alfisols than on sandy Entisols, Histosols, or Spodosols, but not different for coniferous and broad-leaved deciduous species. There is no indication of N saturation of ANPP within the range of natural N availability in these forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)335-347
Number of pages13
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1997


  • Deciduous
  • Evergreen
  • Mineralization
  • Nitrogen
  • Productivity
  • Soil types
  • Temperate forest


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