Long-term nitrogen storage and soil nitrogen availability in post-fire lodgepole pine ecosystems

Erica A H. Smithwick, Daniel M. Kashian, Michael G. Ryan, Monica G. Turner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Long-term, landscape patterns in inorganic nitrogen (N) availability and N stocks following infrequent, stand-replacing fire are unknown but are important for interpreting the effect of disturbances on ecosystem function. Here, we present results from a replicated chronosequence study in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (Wyoming, USA) directed at measuring inorganic N availability (ion-exchange resin bags) and ecosystem N pools among 77 lodgepole pine stands that varied in age and density. Inorganic N availability ranged from 0.07 to 3.20 μN bag-1 d-1 and nitrate (NO 3 - ) was, on average, 65% of total resin-sorbed N. Total ecosystem N stocks (live + detrital + soil) averaged 109.9 ± 3.0 g N m-2 (range = 63.7-185.8 g N m-2). Live N was 14%, detrital N was 29%, and soil N was 57% of total stocks. Soil NO 3 - , total ecosystem N, live N, and detrital N generally increased with stand age, but soil N stocks decreased. Models (AICc) to predict soil N availability and N stocks included soil P, soil Ca, bulk density, and pH in addition to age (adj R 2 ranged from 0.18 to 0.53) and density was included only for live N stocks. Patterns of N stocks and N availability with density were strongest for young stands (<20 years) regenerating from extensive fire in 1988; for example, litterfall N stocks increased with density (adj R 2 = 0.86, P < 0.001) but inorganic N availability declined (adj R 2 = 0.47, P < 0.003). Across the complex Yellowstone landscape, we conclude that N stocks and N availability are best predicted by a combination of local soil characteristics in addition to factors that vary at landscape scales (stand density and age). Overall, total ecosystem N stocks were recovered quickly following stand-replacing fire, suggesting that moderate increases in fire frequency will not affect long-term landscape N storage in Greater Yellowstone.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)792-806
Number of pages15
Issue number5
StatePublished - Aug 1 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology


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