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Impacts of harvesting methods on nutrient removal in Dutch forests exposed to high-nitrogen deposition

Jong, Anjo de; Vries, Wim de; Kros, Hans; Spijker, Joop

Samenvatting

Context: Forest harvest removal may cause nutrient depletion of soils, when removal of essential nutrients, including nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), sulphur (S), calcium (Ca), potassium (K) and magnesium (Mg) exceeds their net input by deposition and weImpacts of acid atmospheric deposition on woodland athering minus leaching. Nutrient removal by harvest depends on tree species and the harvesting method, i.e. whole-tree harvesting (removal of stems and branches) versus stem wood removal only. Aim: The aim of this study was to assess the impacts of these two harvesting methods on nutrient removal in Dutch forests exposed to high-nitrogen deposition. Methods: To assess those impacts, we measured nutrient concentrations in stem wood and branch wood of seven major tree species in the Netherlands, i.e. Japanese larch (Larix kaempferi Lamb.), Norway spruce (Picea abies L. Karst.), Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii Mirb.), Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris L.), silver birch (Betula pendula Roth), beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) and common oak (Quercus robur L.). Average nutrient concentrations in stems were based on measured concentrations in heartwood, sapwood and bark and estimated volumes and densities of these compartments. Similarly, average nutrient concentrations in branches were based on measured concentrations in coarse branches, fine branches and the bark of coarse branches and estimated volumes and densities of these compartments. Removal was assessed by using the average growth rates of these tree species on nutrient poor sandy soils in the Netherlands. Results: Compared to other countries, N concentrations in the Netherlands were higher in stems, while phosphorus, Ca, K and Mg concentrations in both stems and branches were nearly always lower. The elevated long-term N deposition levels in the Netherlands most likely contribute to this finding, since N deposition causes soil acidification reducing the availability of Ca, K, Mg and P, that could become limiting to growth. Limits for sustainable harvest, above which outputs exceed inputs of nutrients, depend on nutrient, soil type and tree species and are mostly determined by K and P and sometimes Ca, which may already be depleted at relatively low harvest levels on poor sandy soils, in particular for broadleaved species, while depletion of Mg is not likely. Nevertheless, the average growth of forests in the Netherlands appears to be slightly higher than in most other countries in Europe. Conclusion: Overall, we thus conclude that limited P, Ca, Mg and K availability in response to elevated N deposition is reflected in reduced contents of these nutrients in stem wood and branch wood but not in growth. Key message: Nutrient concentrations in tree compartments were assessed for seven major tree species in the Netherlands. Concentrations of phosphorus, calcium, potassium and magnesium (base cations) in stems and branches are mostly lower compared to those in other countries, while nitrogen concentrations are higher. A long-term nitrogen deposition has likely contributed to these differences. The average growth has not declined, despite the low availability of phosphorus and base cations. Limiting the harvest of branch wood is suggested on nutrient poor soils to avoid depletion of phosphorus and base cations.