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This study examined effects of soil freezing on N dynamics in soil along an N processing gradient within a mixed hardwood dominated watershed at Fernow Experimental Forest, West Virginia. Sites were designated as LN (low rates of N processing), ML (moderately low), MH (moderately high), and HN (high). Soils underwent three 7-day freezing treatments (0, –20, or –80 °C) in the laboratory. Responses varied between temperature treatments and along the gradient. Initial effects differed among freezing treatments for net N mineralization, but not nitrification, in soils across the gradient, generally maintained at LN < ML ≤ MH < HN for all treatments. Net N mineralization potential was higher following freezing at –20 and –80 °C than control; all were higher than at 0 °C. Net nitrification potential exhibited similar patterns. LN was an exception, with net nitrification low regardless of treatment. Freezing response of N mineralization differed greatly from that of nitrification, suggesting that soil freezing may decouple two processes of the soil N cycle that are otherwise tightly linked at our site. Results also suggest that soil freezing at temperatures commonly experienced at this site can further increase net nitrification in soils already exhibiting high nitrification from N saturation.


This article first appeared in 2010, Gilliam FS, A Cook, and S Lyter. 2010. Effects of experimental freezing on soil nitrogen (N) dynamics along a net nitrification gradient in an N-saturated hardwood forest ecosystem. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 40:436-444 and is reprinted with permission. The final publication is available at