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Faculty for Biology, Chemistry and Earth Sciences

Department Soil Ecology - Prof. Dr. Eva Lehndorff

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Borken, W; Xu, YJ; Beese, F: Ammonium, nitrate and dissolved organic nitrogen in seepage water as affected by compost amendment to European beech, Norway spruce, and Scots pine forests, Plant and Soil, 258, 121-134 (2004), doi:10.1023/B:PLSO.0000016543.36970.29
Fertilization of nutrient-depleted and degraded forest soils may be required to sustain utilization of forests. In some European countries, the application of composts may now be an alternative to the application of inorganic fertilizers because commercial compost production has increased and compost quality has been improved. There is, however, concern that compost amendments may cause increased leaching of nitrogen, trace metals and toxic organic compounds to groundwater. The objective of this study was to assess the risk of ammonium (NH4+), nitrate (NO3-) and dissolved organic nitrogen (DON) leaching following a single compost application to silty and sandy soils in mature beech (Fagus sylvatica L.), pine (Pinus silvestris L.) and spruce (Picea abies Karst.) forests at Solling and Unterlüß in Lower Saxony, Germany. Mature compost from separately collected organic household waste was applied to the soil surface at a rate of 6.3 kg m-2 in the summer of 1997 and changes in NH4+, NO3- and DON concentrations in throughfall and soil water at 10 and 100 cm soil depths were determined for 32 months. The spruce forests had the highest N inputs by throughfall water and the highest N outputs in both the control and compost plots compared with the pine and beech forests. Overall, the differences in total N outputs at 100 cm soil depth between the control and compost plots ranged between 0.3 and 11.2 g N m-2 for the entire 32-month period. The major leaching of these amounts occurred during the first 17 months after compost amendments, but there was no significant difference in total N outputs (-0.2 to 1.8 g N m-2) between the control and compost plots during the remaining 15 months. Most of the mineral soils acted as a significant sink for NO3- and DON as shown by a reduction of their outputs from 10 to 100 cm depth. Based on these results, we conclude that application of mature compost with high inorganic N contents could diminish the groundwater quality in the first months after the amendments. A partial, moderate application of mature compost with low inorganic N content to nutrient depleted forest soils can minimize the risk of NO3- leaching. Keywords ammonium, compost, dissolved organic nitrogen (DON), forest soil amelioration, nitrate, water quality
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