Changes in stable nitrogen isotopes of plants, bulk soil and soil dissolved N during ecosystem retrogression in boreal forest

Fujio Hyodo, Yu Takebayashi, Akiko Makabe, David A. Wardle, Keisuke Koba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


Stable nitrogen isotope ratios (δ15N) of plants and soil have been used to study changes in the N cycle during ecosystem succession and retrogression. However, little is known about how δ15N of soil mineral N and dissolved organic N (DON) change during retrogression, despite their potential to inform on processes contributing to N loss. Here, we examined the δ15N of NH4+ and DON together with δ15N of the dominant plant species and bulk soil across a 5,000-year-old retrogressive chronosequence of forested islands in northern Sweden. The δ15N of bulk soil N, NH4+ and DON did not change greatly during retrogression, suggesting that there are no major losses of N from the system. The δ15N of NH4+ and DON was significantly correlated with that of bulk soil N across islands, indicating that bulk soil N is an important determinant of the δ15N of dissolved soil N. The δ15N of DON was significantly higher than those of NH4+ and bulk soil N, probably because of the inclusion of microbial N to the DON fraction. Despite the lack of changes in δ15N of soil N as retrogression proceeded, the δ15N of most plant species increased. These results suggest that despite the relative importance of the three underlying mechanisms involved is unclear, the N resources of plants change in response to retrogression: they have an increasing reliance on DON, a decreasing dependence on N transferred from the mycorrhizal fungi and reduced reliance on N from surface soil layers as retrogression proceeds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-429
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2021


  • boreal forests
  • mycorrhizal fungi
  • soil dissolved N
  • succession
  • δN

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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