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[en] Federal agencies of several nations have or are currently developing guidelines for critical forest soil acid loads. These guidelines are used to establish regulations designed to maintain atmospheric acid inputs below levels shown to damage forests and streams. Traditionally, when the critical soil acid load exceeds the amount of acid that the ecosystem can absorb, it is believed to potentially impair forest health. The excess over the critical soil acid load is termed the exceedance, and the larger the exceedance, the greater the risk of ecosystem damage. This definition of critical soil acid load applies to exposure of the soil to a single, long-term pollutant (i.e., acidic deposition). However, ecosystems can be simultaneously under multiple ecosystem stresses and a single critical soil acid load level may not accurately reflect ecosystem health risk when subjected to multiple, episodic environmental stress. For example, the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina receive some of the highest rates of acidic deposition in the eastern United States, but these levels are considered to be below the critical acid load (CAL) that would cause forest damage. However, the area experienced a moderate three-year drought from 1999 to 2002, and in 2001 red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) trees in the area began to die in large numbers. The initial survey indicated that the affected trees were killed by the southern pine beetle (Dendroctonus frontalis Zimm.). This insect is not normally successful at colonizing these tree species because the trees produce large amounts of oleoresin that exclude the boring beetles. Subsequent investigations revealed that long-term acid deposition may have altered red spruce forest structure and function. There is some evidence that elevated acid deposition (particularly nitrogen) reduced tree water uptake potential, oleoresin production, and caused the trees to become more susceptible to insect colonization during the drought period. While the ecosystem was not in exceedance of the CAL, long-term nitrogen deposition pre-disposed the forest to other ecological stress. In combination, insects, drought, and nitrogen ultimately combined to cause the observed forest mortality. If any one of these factors were not present, the trees would likely not have died. This paper presents a conceptual framework of the ecosystem consequences of these interactions as well as limited plot level data to support this concept. Future assessments of the use of CAL studies need to account for multiple stress impacts to better understand ecosystem response. - Forests appear much less able to tolerate elevated acid loading when subjected to multiple stresses, thus future assessment of CALs and exceedances need to address the dynamic nature of multiple environmental stress if improvements in identifying areas of impaired forest health are to be achieved.
[en] Recent studies have demonstrated that natural abundance 15N can be a useful tool for assessing nitrogen saturation, because as nitrification and nitrate loss increase, δ15N of foliage and soil also increases. We measured foliar δ15N at 11 high-elevation spruce-fir stands along an N deposition gradient in 1987-1988 and at seven paired northern hardwood and spruce-fir stands in 1999. In 1999, foliar δ15N increased from -5.2 to -0.7 per mille with increasing N deposition from Maine to NY. Foliar δ15N decreased between 1987-1988 and 1999, while foliar %N increased and foliar C:N decreased at most sites. Foliar δ15N was strongly correlated with N deposition, and was also positively correlated with net nitrification potential and negatively correlated with soil C:N ratio. Although the increase in foliar %N is consistent with a progression towards N saturation, other results of this study suggest that, in 1999, these stands were further from N saturation than in 1987-1988. - Foliar δ15N increased with increasing N deposition from Maine to NY, but decreased between 1987-1988 and 1999
[en] We evaluated foliar and forest floor chemistry across a gradient of N deposition in the Northeast at 11 red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) sites in 1987/1988 and foliar and forest floor chemistry and basal area growth at six paired spruce and deciduous sites in 1999. The six red spruce plots were a subset of the original 1987/1988 spruce sites. In 1999, we observed a significant correlation between mean growing season temperature and red spruce basal area growth. Red spruce and deciduous foliar %N correlated significantly with N deposition. Although N deposition has not changed significantly from 1987/1988 to 1999, net nitrification potential decreased significantly at Whiteface. This decrease in net potential nitrification is not consistent with the N saturation hypothesis and suggests that non-N deposition controls, such as climatic factors and immobilization of down dead wood, might have limited N cycling. - Data from the 1999 remeasurement of the red spruce forests suggest that N deposition, to some extent, is continuing to influence red spruce across the northeastern US as illustrated by a significant correlation between N deposition and red spruce foliar %N. Our data also suggest that the decrease in forest floor %N and net nitrification potential across sites from 1987 to 1999 may be due to factors other than N deposition, such as climatic factors and N immobilization in fine woody material (<5 cm diameter)