Aims Nitrogen (N) addition could affect the rate of forest litter and soil organic matter decomposition by regulating extracellular enzyme activity (EEA). The impact of N addition on EEA may differ across different age stands with different organic matter quality. We were interested in whether the impact of N addition on EEA in litter and mineral soil during the growing season was dependent on stand age of a larch plantation in North China.
Methods We added three levels of N (0, 20 and 50kg N ha-1 year-1) in three age stands (11, 20 and 45 years old) of Larix principis-rupprechtii plantation in North China. We measured potential activities of β-1,4-glucosidase (BG), cellobiohydrolase (CB), β-1,4-N-acetyl-glucosaminidase (NAG) and phenol oxidase (PO) in litter (organic horizon) and mineral soil (0–10cm) during the second growing season after N amendment. We also measured C and N concentrations, microbial biomass C and N, and KCl-extractable ammonium and nitrate in both litter and mineral soil.
Important findings We observed unimodal patterns of EEA during the growing season in all three stands, consistent with the seasonal variations of soil temperature. Stand age had a strong effect on EEA in both litter and mineral soil, and this effect differed between litter and mineral soil as well as between different enzymes. N addition did not significantly affect the activities of BG or CB but significantly suppressed the activity of NAG in litter. We also found stand age-specific responses of PO activity to N addition in both litter and mineral soil. N addition suppressed PO activity of the high C:N ratio litters in 20- and 45-year-old stands but had no significant effect on PO activity of the low C:N ratio litter in 11-year-old stand. Moreover, N addition inhibited PO activity of the high C:N ratio soil in 20-year-old stand but had no significant impact on PO activity of the low C:N ratio soils in 11- and 45-year-old stands. Overall, stand age had a greater effect on EEA in litter and mineral soil compared to 2 years of N addition. Moreover, the effect of N addition on PO activity is stand age dependent, which may affect the long-term soil carbon storage in this forest.