Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology
Journal or Book Title
Natural abundance nitrate (NO3−) isotopes represent a powerful tool for assessing denitrification, yet the scale and context dependence of relationships between isotopes and denitrification have received little attention, especially in surface soils. We measured the NO3−isotope compositions in soil extractions and lysimeter water from a semi-arid meadow and lawn during snowmelt, along with the denitrification potential, bulk O2, and a proxy for anaerobic microsites. Denitrification potential varied by three orders of magnitude and the slope of δ18O/δ15N in soil-extracted NO3− from all samples measured 1.04 ± 0.12 (R2 = 0.64, p < 0.0001), consistent with fractionation from denitrification. However, δ15N of extracted NO3− was often lower than bulk soil δ15N (by up to 24 ‰), indicative of fractionation during nitrification that was partially overprinted by denitrification. Mean NO3− isotopes in lysimeter water differed from soil extractions by up to 19 ‰ in δ18O and 12 ‰ in δ15N, indicating distinct biogeochemical processing in relatively mobile water versus soil microsites. This implies that NO3− isotopes in streams, which are predominantly fed by mobile water, do not fully reflect terrestrial soil N cycling. Relationships between potential denitrification and δ15N of extracted NO3− showed a strong threshold effect culminating in a null relationship at high denitrification rates. Our observations of (1) competing fractionation from nitrification and denitrification in redox-heterogeneous surface soils, (2) large NO3− isotopic differences between relatively immobile and mobile water pools, (3) and the spatial dependence of δ18O/δ15N relationships suggest caution in using NO3− isotopes to infer site or watershed-scale patterns in denitrification.
Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg
Hall, Steven J.; Weintraub, Samantha R.; and Bowling, David, "Scale-Dependent Linkages between Nitrate Isotopes and Denitrification in Surface Soils: Implications for Isotope Measurements and Models" (2012). Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology Publications. 214.