Influence of the phenolic compound bearing species Ledum palustre on soil N cycling in a boreal hardwood forest

Eva Castells, Josep Peñuelas, David W. Valentine

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29 Citations (Scopus)


The effects of the understory shrub Ledum palustre on soil N cycling were studied in a hardwood forest of Interior Alaska. This species releases high concentrations of phenolic compounds from green leaves and decomposing litter by rainfall. Organic and mineral soils sampled underneath L. palustre and at nearby non-Ledum sites were amended with L. palustre litter leachates and incubated at controlled conditions. We aimed to know (i) whether L. palustre presence and litter leachate addition changed net N cycling rates in organic and mineral soils, and (ii) what N cycling processes, including gross N mineralization, N immobilization and gross N nitrification, were affected in association with L. palustre. Our results indicate that N transformation rates in the surface organic horizon were not affected by L. palustre presence or leachate addition. However, mineral soils underneath L. palustre as well as soils amended with leachates had significantly higher C/N ratios and microbial respiration rates, and lower net N mineralization and N-to-C mineralization compared to no Ledum and no leachates soils. No nitrification was detected. Plant presence and leachate addition also tended to increase both gross N mineralization and immobilization. These results suggest that soluble C compounds present in L. palustre increased N immobilization in mineral soils when soil biota used them as a C source. Increases in gross N mineralization may have been caused by an enhanced microbial biomass due to C addition. Since both plant presence and leachate addition decreased soil C/N ratio and had similar effects on N transformation rates, our results suggest that litter leachates could be partially responsible for plant presence effects. The lower N availability under L. palustre canopy could exert negative interactions on the establishment and growth of other plant species.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-166
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2003


  • 15 N isotope dilution
  • Boreal forest
  • Gross immobilization-mineralization rates
  • Ledum palustre
  • N cycling
  • Phenolic compounds


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