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Tropical forests are fertilized by air pollution
Date:11/3/2011

popcorn, the lighter, popped kernels get used up first, increasing the ratio of heavy to light kernels (or 15N/14N in the case of the ecosystem). Light nitrogen is lost through nitrate leaching and as gases such as N2, and various forms of nitrous oxides or "noxides," some of which can be important greenhouse gases. In the fertilization study in Panama, mentioned earlier, N2O emissions were tripled.

"Tree rings provide a handy timeline for measuring changes in wood nitrogen content," said Peter Hietz from the Institute of Botany at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, who faced down a tiger when sampling trees in a monsoon forest on the Thailand-Myanmar border. "We find that over the last century, there's an increase in the heavier form of nitrogen over the lighter form, which tells us that there is more nitrogen going into this system and higher losses. We also got the same result in an earlier study of tree rings in Brazilian rainforests, so it looks like nitrogen fixed by humans now affects some of the most remote areas in the world."

"The results have a number of important implications," said Ben Turner, staff scientist at STRI. "The most obvious is for trees in the bean family (Fabaceae), a major group in tropical forests that fix their own nitrogen in association with soil bacteria. Increased nitrogen from outside could take away their competitive advantage and make them less common, changing the composition of tree communities."

"There are also implications for global change models, which are beginning to include nitrogen availability as a factor affecting the response of plants to increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations," said Turner. "Most models assume that higher nitrogen equals more plant growth, which would remove carbon from the atmosphere and offset future warming. However a challenge for the models is that there is no evidence that trees are growing faster in Panama, despite the
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Contact: Beth King
kingb@si.edu
202-633-4700 x28216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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