FOREST ECOSYSTEM RESPONSES TO ATMOSPHERIC POLLUTION: LINKING COMPARATIVE WITH EXPERIMENTAL STUDIES

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Abstract

The impact on an ecosystem of an environmental stress, such as climate change or air pollution, can be studied through experimentation, through comparisons of sites across a gradient of the stress, through long-term studies at a single site, or through theoretical or modelling approaches. Although the former three techniques often are used to develop and test models, it is much rarer to explicitly link experimental, comparative or long-term studies together. Here we present a concept for combining experimental and comparative research to assess the direction and rate of change, the expected long-term state, and the rate at which the long-term state is achieved after an ecosystem is exposed to an environmental stress. We do this by comparing the response of a forest in Denmark to experimentally increased N deposition with the expected long-term response based on a European database of forests exposed to different levels of N deposition over long time periods. The analysis suggests that if N deposition were to increase by 3-fold to about 50 kg N ha−1a−1at the Danish site, and remain at this level, the N concentration in needles would respond within 2–4 yr after the onset of the enhanced N deposition, and would rapidly plateau to an expected mean value of 18.0 mg N g−1dry mass (95% confidence interval ± 2.5 mg g−1). The N concentration of new litter also would respond rapidly (1–2 yr) to reach an expected value of 16.6 mg N kg−1dry mass (± 3). The N concentration of the organic layer in the soil would increase much more slowly, but a significant increase would be expected within 5–10 yr. Mineral soil pH would take more than 7 yr to change. Finally, the flux of dissolved inorganic N in leachate would begin to increase immediately, but would take many years to reach the expected level of 22.4 kg N ha−1a−1(± 4)

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