Experimental removal and addition of leaf litter inputs reduces nitrate production and loss in a lowland tropical forest

William R. Wieder, Cory C. Cleveland, Philip G. Taylor, Diana R. Nemergut, Eve Lyn Hinckley, Laurent Philippot, David Bru, Samantha R. Weintraub, Mysti Martin, Alan R. Townsend

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Environmental perturbations such as changes in land use, climate, and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations may alter organic matter inputs to surface soils. While the carbon (C) cycle response to such perturbations has received considerable attention, potential responses of the soil nitrogen (N) cycle to changing organic matter inputs have been less well characterized. Changing litter inputs to surface to soils may alter the soil N cycle directly, by controlling N substrate availability, or indirectly, via interactions with soil C biogeochemistry. We investigated soil N-cycling responses to a leaf litter manipulation in a lowland tropical forest using isotopic and molecular techniques. Both removing and doubling leaf litter inputs decreased the size of the soil nitrate pool, gross nitrification rates, and the relative abundance of ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms. Gross nitrification rates were correlated with the relative abundance of ammonia-oxidizing archaea, and shifts in the N-cycling microbial community composition correlated with concurrent changes in edaphic properties, notably pH and C:N ratios. These results highlight the importance of understanding coupled biogeochemical cycles in global change scenarios and suggest that environmental perturbations that alter organic matter inputs in tropical forests could reduce inorganic N losses to surface waters and the atmosphere by limiting nitrate production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-642
Number of pages14
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - May 2013


  • Microbial community composition
  • Nitrification
  • Nitrogen cycle
  • Tropical forests


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