Appraisal of 15N enrichment and 15N natural abundance methods for estimating N2 fixation by understorey Acacia leiocalyx and A. disparimma in a native forest of subtropical Australia
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Purpose It is anticipated that global climate change will increase the frequency of wildfires in native forests of eastern Australia. Understorey legumes such as Acacia species play an important role in maintaining ecosystem nitrogen (N) balance through biological N fixation (BNF). This is particularly important in Australian native forests with soils of low nutrient status and frequent disturbance of the nutrient cycles by fires. This study aimed to examine 15N enrichment and 15N natural abundance techniques in terms of their utilisation for evaluation of N2 fixation of understorey acacias and determine the relationship between species ecophysiological traits and N2 fixation. Materials and methods A trial was established at sites 1 and 2 located at Toohey Forest, Queensland, Australia, a eucalyptdominated native forest, to examine the determination of BNF using 15N enrichment and 15N natural abundance methods. Toohey Forest is an urban forest and subjected to frequent fuel reduction burns to protect the adjacent properties. Plant physiological status was measured to determine the relationship between physiological and N2 fixation activities. Results and discussion Both 15N enrichment and 15N natural abundance techniques may be used to estimate N2 fixation of acacia tree species. The estimation of BNF using 15N enrichment was higher than those of the 15N natural abundance method. A grass reference plant, Themeda triandra, as well as tree reference plants provided an appropriate d15N signal. Potential B values for Acacia spp. between -0.3頡nd 1.0鍊provided an acceptable BNF estimation. This suburban forest is located nearby a busy highway leading to N deposition over time with consequent negative d15N signal. This N deposition may explain the separation between the d15N signal of the acacias and that of the reference plants which led to the successful use of the 15N natural abundance technique. Acacia leiocalyx demonstrated greater N2 fixation as well as photosynthesis and instantaneous water use efficiency than Acacia disparimma. However, no strong relationship between plant photosynthesis and N2 fixation was observed in this study. A high within-treatment variation may have masked the relationships between plant BNF activities and photosynthesis Conclusions The 15N natural abundance technique is preferred to be used for future studies as it is simple and inexpensive compared with 15N enrichment method. The dependence of both species on BNF at site 2, where fuel reduction burning had not taken place for 8 years, suggests that the frequent burning impoverished the soil, and this has wider implications as higher fire frequencies are to be expected in other Australian ecosystems as a result of global climate change.
Journal of Soils and Sediments
© 2012 Springer-Verlag. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal website for access to the definitive, published version.