15N in tree rings as a bio-indicator of changing nitrogen cycling in tropical forests: an evaluation at three sites using two sampling methods

J.P. van der Sleen, M. Vlam, P. Groenendijk, N.P.R. Anten, F. Bongers, S. Bunyavejchewin, P. Hietz, T.L. Pons, P. Zuidema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Anthropogenic nitrogen deposition is currently causing a more than twofold increase of reactive nitrogen input over large areas in the tropics. Elevated N-15 abundance (delta N-15) in the growth rings of some tropical trees has been hypothesized to reflect an increased leaching of N-15-depleted nitrate from the soil, following anthropogenic nitrogen deposition over the last decades. To find further evidence for altered nitrogen cycling in tropical forests, we measured long-term delta N-15 values in trees from Bolivia, Cameroon, and Thailand. We used two different sampling methods. In the first, wood samples were taken in a conventional way: from the pith to the bark across the stem of 28 large trees (the "radial" method). In the second, delta N-15 values were compared across a fixed diameter (the "fixed-diameter" method). We sampled 400 trees that differed widely in size, but measured delta N-15 in the stem around the same diameter (20 cm dbh) in all trees. As a result, the growth rings formed around this diameter differed in age and allowed a comparison of delta N-15 values over time with an explicit control for potential size-effects on delta N-15 values. We found a significant increase of tree-ring delta N-15 across the stem radius of large trees from Bolivia and Cameroon, but no change in tree-ring delta N-15 values over time was found in any of the study sites when controlling for tree size. This suggests that radial trends of delta N-15 values within trees reflect tree ontogeny (size development). However, for the trees from Cameroon and Thailand, a low statistical power in the fixed-diameter method prevents to conclude this with high certainty. For the trees from Bolivia, statistical power in the fixed-diameter method was high, showing that the temporal trend in tree-ring delta N-15 values in the radial method is primarily caused by tree ontogeny and unlikely by a change in nitrogen cycling. We therefore stress to account for tree size before tree-ring delta N-15 values can be properly interpreted.
Original languageEnglish
Article number229
JournalFrontiers in Plant Science
Volume6
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Keywords

  • rain-forest
  • natural-abundance
  • soil-nitrogen
  • isotope fractionation
  • wood deterioration
  • growth-rates
  • n deposition
  • dynamics
  • ecosystem
  • lowland

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