Front Plant Sci. 2022 Jun 15;13:914176. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2022.914176. eCollection 2022.
Forests are among the most important N pools of all terrestrial ecosystems. Elevated atmospheric N deposition in recent decades has led to increased interest in the influences of N application on forest N cycles. However, accurate assessments of N storage in forest ecosystems remain elusive. We used a 14-year experiment of a Chinese fir [Cunninghamia lanceolata (Lamb.) Hook] plantation to explore how long-term N fertilization affected N storage and recovery rates. Our study plots were located in a field that had been continuously fertilized over 14 years (2004-2017) with urea at rates of 0 (N0, control), 60 (N60, low-N), 120 (N120, medium-N), and 240 (N240, high-N) kg N hm-2a-1. Data were collected that included N content and biomass in the understory, litter, and various plant organs (i.e., leaves, branches, stems, roots, and bark), as well as soil N content and density at different depths. Results showed that the total ecosystem N storage in the N-fertilized plots was 1.1-1.4 times higher than that in the control plots. About 12.36% of the total ecosystem N was stored in vegetation (plant organs, litter, and understory) and 87.64% was stored in soil (0-60 cm). Plant organs, litter, and soil had higher N storage than the understory layer. Significantly higher plant N uptake was found in the medium-N (1.2 times) and high-N (1.4 times) treatments relative to the control. The N recovery rate of the understory layer in the N-fertilized treatments was negative and less than that in the control. Application of long-term N fertilizer to this stand led to a low N recovery rate (average 11.39%) and high loss of N (average 91.86%), which indicate low N use efficiency in the Chinese fir plantation ecosystem. Our findings further clarify the distribution of N in an important terrestrial ecosystem and improve our understanding of regional N cycles.